Iraqi forces link up in north Mosul, make gains in southeast
By John Davison and Stephen Kalin
BAGHDAD/ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi forces joined flanks in northern Mosul and drove back Islamic State militants in the southeast on Thursday in a renewed push that has brought them closer to controlling the eastern half of the city.
Forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) took control of 7th Nissan and Sadeeq districts, linking up with army troops that had pushed through al-Hadba neighbourhood, CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told Reuters.
"This is considered contact between the troops of the northern front and CTS. This... will prevent any gap between the axes which the enemy could use," he said by phone. "The enemy is now located only in front of the troops, not at their sides."
Numan said more than 85 percent of eastern Mosul was now under control of pro-government forces, up from nearly 75 percent a week ago.
Brett McGurk, Washington's envoy to the U.S.-led coalition backing the Iraqi offensive with air strikes, training and advice, called the link-up a "milestone" and said in a tweet that Islamic State's defences were weakening.
The campaign to recapture Mosul, Islamic State's last major stronghold in Iraq and the largest urban centre anywhere in the sprawling territory it once controlled, has pushed ahead with renewed vigour since the turn of the year after troops got bogged down inside the city in late November and December.
New tactics, including a night raid, better defences against suicide car bomb attacks and improved coordination between the army and security forces operating on different fronts, have helped forge momentum, U.S and Iraqi officers say.
When it launched the offensive in October, the Iraqi government hoped to have retaken the city by the end of 2016, but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in December it could now take another three months to drive the militants out. Continued...