Kurdish Peshmerga forces are within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of Mosul, commanders said Sunday, after days of fighting and sweeping territorial gains in the operation to free the key Iraqi city from ISIS control.
A coalition of 100,000 troops have been closing in on Mosul since Monday, liberating surrounding communities village by village and making quicker-than-expected gains.
Officials and analysts say that entering Mosul is likely to kick off intense street fighting as coalition forces try to retake what has become the cultural capital of ISIS’ envisaged caliphate, or Islamic state.
Two Peshmerga factions linked up after surrounding the empty town of Bashiqa, about eight miles east of Mosul, with the support of coalition air power, the Peshmerga’s general command said in a statement Sunday.
They were able to cordon off eight villages in an area measuring approximately 100 square kilometers and secure a significant stretch of the Bashiqa-Mosul highway to limit ISIS’ freedom of movement, commanders said. Hourslong clashes left dozens of ISIS militants dead, they said.
Turkish troops supported the Peshmerga in the battle, and Turkey has provided them with artillery, tanks and Firtina howitzer vehicles, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, according to state-run news agency Anadolu. The Kurdistan Regional Government declined to comment, but Peshmerga commanders have told CNN that Turkish artillery assisted them on Mount Bashiqa and on the plains below.
With this weekend’s gains have come pockets of horrific losses. ISIS executed about 40 people who were celebrating the apparent liberation of their villages by Iraqi forces, a Mosul City Council official said Sunday, citing local sources. The executions were carried out in four villages — Kabiba, Hamdaniya, Mukhalat and al Jayef, according to the official. The executions were believed to have been carried out on Saturday.