Though obscure by dust and dirt thrown into the air by continuous shelling, the Mosul low-rise skyline is within sight of forward elements of Iraqi special forces, the American-trained Counter Terrorism Force (CTF).
CTF operatives are now about 1.2m away from the outskirts of ISIS-controlled Mosul, and scouts report militia fighters darting in between houses, and heavy concentration of vehicles in the area. These vehicles are suspected to be packed with explosives, ready to ram advancing forces.
Iraqi mortar teams are maintaining a constant bombardment on ISIS-held positions, to disrupt staging and reduce battlefield morale.
The situation on the ground is tense, as ISIS militia know that losing Mosul will mean their inevitable end. The city had been designated to be the capital of the new, so-called ‘caliphate.’ A decisive victory for the Iraqi-led coalition here will certain spell ISIS’ demise in the country.
A bitter, bloody, and costly struggle awaits the coalition troops. ISIS have recalled hardened fighters into the city, and conservative estimates put the number of civilians still trapped inside Mosul in the tens of thousands. ISIS have been known to massacre personnel attempting to flee the city, including women and children, and use civilians as human shields to deter direct confrontation.
Morale is said to be high among Iraqi troops, with many no doubt seeking retribution from years of ISIS oppression.
The final assault on Mosul is expected to begin soon.
Military observers on the ground around the besieged city of Mosul in Iraq report a large number of civilian casualties, allegedly inflicted by ISIS militia.
The bodies of at least 120 civilians have been discovered inside houses and in shallow graves, most of them with multiple gunshot wounds. It remains unclear which faction carried out the killings, however.
Some 5,000-6,000 were dug in around Mosul at the outset of the battle. Vastly outnumbered by a coalition of around 90,000, ISIS militias have sustained heavy losses since the start of the offensive, though they are fighting doggedly to retain control. The bitter struggle for the city is thought to be ISIS’ last stand in Iraq.
The jihadi fighters have mined all access to the city with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and laid booby traps all over, creating a hazardous environment indeed.
Specialist engineering teams are on the ground, but progress is slow, and clearing has to be done house by house.
ISIS fighters mounted an attack on Kirkuk, just over 100 miles south-east of Mosul, while a sulphur plant near Mosul was set on fire, creating a toxic cloud. Noxious fumes drifted towards Qayyarah West airfield, forcing US troops stationed there to wear protective masks. Qayyarah West is the main staging area for US air assets supporting the ground offensive to retake Mosul.
Meanwhile, a large ISIS contingent mounted an attack on the south-eastern city of Kirkuk. ISIS incurred heavy losses, and the assault was ultimately deemed ineffective. Analysts believe ISIS staged this move to divert attention from Mosul.
Local sources on the ground also report that people trapped inside Mosul have began launching hit-and-run attacks against ISIS militia, in what is seen as an uprising against their tyrannical grip on the city.
US engineers also report that all accesses to Mosul are heavily booby-trapped and covered by sniper fire, making progress slow and extremely hazardous.