Mosul | Forces battling the Islamic State group in northern Iraq cut off the jihadists’ last supply line from Mosul to Syria today, trapping them in the city for a bloody last stand.
A day after the last major bridge over the Tigris in Mosul was bombed by the US-led coalition against IS, elite forces fighting in the east of the city also reported significant progress.
To the west of Mosul, Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces made a push to cut the road between two towns on the route heading to Syria, security officials said.
“Hashed forces have cut off the Tal Afar-Sinjar road,” senior Hashed commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis said on social media.
A Kurdish security official told AFP that Hashed forces had linked up with other anti-IS forces, including Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters, in three villages in the area.
The town of Tal Afar itself, which lies about 50 kilometres west of Mosul, is still under the control of the jihadists.
Iraqi forces launched a major offensive on October 17 to retake Mosul, which is the country’s second city and where jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate in 2014.
Federal forces have already entered the city from the east. Kurdish peshmerga and other forces are also closing in from the north and south, while only the west had remained open.
The latest development will make it very long and dangerous for IS if it attempts to move fighters and equipment between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, the last two bastions of their crumbling “state”.
A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance launched an offensive against Raqa on November 5 but its fighters have some way to go before reaching the city.
In Iraq, almost two and a half years after IS took over swathes of the country, forces backed by the US and other partners have regained much ground.
Mosul is the last major prize in Iraq for the diverse and sometimes rival forces involved in the anti-IS effort, but the jihadists have offered stiffer resistance than elsewhere.
The eastern side of the city was expected to offer less resistance than the west bank but elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) have faced a torrid time.
IS fighters moving in an intricate network of tunnels have used snipers, booby traps and a seemingly endless supply of suicide car bombers to stop Iraqi forces.