Mosul, Nov 24 Iraqi forces battled the Islamic State group deep inside Mosul today, piling pressure on jihadists who have no more escape routes but leaving trapped civilians in the crossfire.
Elite forces gained new ground in east Mosul, looking for fresh momentum as stiffer-than-expected IS resistance threatened to bog down the five-week-old offensive against the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq.
Maan al-Saadi, a commander with the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP on the front line in Mosul that his forces were battling IS in the neighbourhood of Al-Khadraa in Iraq's second city. "They cannot flee. They have two choices - give up or die," he said.
Over the past few days, Iraqi forces have cut off the main supply line running from Mosul to the western border with Syria, where IS still controls the city of Raqa.
The US-led coalition also bombed bridges over the Tigris river that splits Mosul in two, reducing the jihadists' ability to resupply the eastern front.
An old British-era bridge, which cannot be used by heavy vehicles, is the only one still standing in the city.
"The Iraqi advance on the south and southeast of the city has started to pick up some steam, which we think is a really great development," coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.
"They're going to have to react to that advance. That thins out their defences," he said.
A senior CTS commander said yesterday that 40 percent of eastern Mosul had now been retaken.
"It is extraordinarily tough fighting, just brutal, but there is an inevitability to it. The Iraqis are going to beat them," Dorrian said.
Iraqi forces launched a major offensive on October 17 to retake Mosul, where jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate in 2014.
They are also edging towards the city from a northern front as well as from the south, where they are within striking distance of Mosul airport.
Among the forces deployed south and west of the city are the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), an umbrella for paramilitaries dominated by Tehran-backed militias.
They have focused their operations on Tal Afar, a large town still held by IS west of Mosul and yesterday announced they had cut the main road between it and Syria.