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Fight For Mosul Moves Westward And Centers On City's Airport

Days after expanding the fight for of Mosul, Iraq's security forces are pushing further into the strategic city's western portion, focusing on its airport. Thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to be in Mosul, the extremist group's biggest stronghold in Iraq.

From Erbil, Iraq, NPR's Alice Fordham reports for our Newscast unit:

"The fight to take back Mosul has been going on since October, but the push for the western half of the city is just four days old. Federal police and the army have pushed through rural villages to the outskirts of the city, and the Iraqi special forces have now joined them as they face fierce ISIS resistance around the airport.

"Around 450 members of the U.S.-led coalition are advising the Iraqi troops. Inside western Mosul, a resident tells NPR that ISIS has forced residents to knock holes in their houses to create tunnels for the militants to use in the coming fight there."

According to Iraqi News, ISIS leaders have disseminated a list of nearly 150 members who are wanted for arrest, because they fled in the face of fighting in Mosul.

Government forces entered the airport on the southern edge of the city for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014, Iraqi News reports, citing state TV.

So far, government forces have been able to recapture the eastern half of the city that's divided by the Tigris River. The recent progress comes two years after a senior U.S. military official said Iraq's military was preparing to launch an offensive to take the city back.

When it was overrun by ISIS fighters in the summer of 2014, Mosul's population was around 2 million.

Announcing the new offensive Sunday, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, "Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.