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Battle for Mosul Begins with Heavy Push Into Outlying Towns

Iraq launched the coalition-supported assault today to retake Mosul from ISIS, an announcement coming just a few days after the Pentagon said Iraqi brigades had nearly finished training.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not only announced Sunday the beginning of operations to liberate Mosul, but vowed that all Iraqi territory would be cleared of ISIS by the end of the year.

“Two years ago we were fighting Daesh on the outskirts of Baghdad , and today we are on the outskirts of Mosul,” Abadi said. “…Priority for battle against Daesh was our vision and clear from the very beginning and we are now close to the liberation of Mosul.”

According to Iraqi sources, the assault led by Iraqi and Peshmerga forces was coming at Mosul from different directions — including Qayyarah Airfield West, where U.S. forces helped set up the staging ground.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called it “a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.”

“The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead,” Carter said in a statement late Sunday. “We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.”

Analysts have been speculating for months that kicking ISIS out of Mosul, their Iraqi capital in the caliphate, could be an October surprise from the White House in the run-up to Election Day. But the timetable of an assault had been unclear as forces got in place and received needed training.

The Pentagon repeatedly stressed that it was up to the Iraqis when they wanted to start the offensive.

In this video, Iraqi forces fire a barrage at ISIS defensive lines south of Mosul:

On the Kurdish side of operations, sources said Peshmerga appeared to be driving toward Mosul from the east with the intent of liberating villages as they go. Rudaw News reported that President Masoud Barzani was “personally overseeing” the operation.

Barzani said in a statement that “preparations were reached after an agreement between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi military forces” and “the military tasks and responsibilities were distributed in accordance to that agreement.”

“Baghdad and Erbil have also agreed to establish a joint higher political committee whose task would be to supervise the affairs of Mosul after the liberation,” Barzani said. “It is my sincere hope that this operation will be successful and that we will collectively liberate the people of Mosul from the tyranny of the terrorists of the Islamic State. Furthermore, I hope for the safe return of the [internally displaced persons] to the province of Nineveh.”

Peshmerga commanders said they had 4,000 fighters involved in the operation on three fronts, complementing some 30,000 Iraqi troops. “Global coalition warplanes have pounded ISIL positions as of 16 October and will continue to provide close air support throughout the operation,” they said in a statement, noting that local and international media were embedded with Peshmerga units.

But the Kurds reportedly will let Iraqis take over when it comes to entering Mosul.

Jamal Iminiki, chief of general staff of the Peshmerga forces, cautioned that “you can’t make any predictions about a city like Mosul.”

“ISIS has a considerable force in Mosul. Many militants who were defeated in Iraqi cities such as Ramadi, Tikrit and Baiji might be in Mosul now even though some of them might have gone to Syria,” he told reporters. “We’ve an agreement with the Iraqis and coalition that the Peshmerga won’t be going to Mosul.”

There were early reports of quick liberation of an Assyrian town that’s home to mostly Yazidis and some Christians:

Fliers were dropped into Mosul before the offensive began urging civilians to flee. More than a million residents of the city may be caught in the crossfire; during the occupation, ISIS had been known to kill families trying to flee their brutal rule. Before the offensive began, ISIS blocked all roads and bridges leading out of the major city.

It was reported by Iraqis that the offensive also has a tech component: mobile service was restored to Mosul just in time for the invasion — and just in time for besieged residents to fight back against their tormentors.