(Reuters) U.S.-backed Iraqi troops expanded their foothold on the eastern side of ISIL’s stronghold of Mosul on Friday, as the group pledged to mount more suicide attacks on their offensive to take the city.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) stormed the Tahrir district on the northeastern edge of Mosul, the last major city under control of the Sunni hard-line group in Iraq.
A Reuters correspondent reporting from the CTS-held line in Tahrir saw civilians streaming out of the nearby Aden district where fighting blazed, pushing trolleys containing their belongings and carrying home-made white flags.
The women were still shrouded in black robes imposed by the militants but most had uncovered their faces as they fled intense fighting.
Militants have been steadily retreating from areas around Mosul into the city since the battle started on Oct. 17, with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition.
“The advance is slow due to the civilians,” said CTS Lt. General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, adding that the U.S.-trained unit aims to clear the rest of the neighbourhood during the day.
A Friday prayer sermon referring to “mujahideen”, or holy warriors, could be heard coming from a mosque under control of the jihadis in the vicinity. An armed man, possibly a sniper, was in the minaret of the mosque.
As the offensive entered its second month, Iraqi government forces are still fighting in a dozen of about 50 neighbourhoods on the eastern part of Mosul, which is divided by the Tigris River that runs through its centre.
Militants are dug in among the civilians as a defence tactic to hamper air strikes, moving around the city through tunnels, driving suicide car bombs into advancing troops and hitting them with sniper and mortar fire.