Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into Islamic State-held part of Mosul on Tuesday (January 17) capturing the al-Muhandiseen district, a short distance from the river Tigris.
“We took them by surprise in the Mohandeseen district which is the last district within the range of the military force’ northern battalion on the eastern front,” Iraqi commander, Major-General Sami al-Aridi said.
Islamic State has been driven out of most eastern districts of its Iraqi stronghold in the three months since the U.S.-backed campaign began. Iraqi troops have seized large areas along the river, which bisects Mosul from north to south.
The newly re-taken area includes Andalus neighborhood and the University of Mosul.
Capture of the entire east bank, which military officials say is imminent, will allow the army, special forces and elite police units to begin attacks on the city’s west, still fully held by the militants.
More than 60 neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul – out of a total of around 80 – had been recaptured since the start of the offensive in October, senior Iraqi forces have told Reuters.
Advances have gathered pace in the new year thanks to improved battle tactics and coordination between different military branches, U.S. and Iraqi military officials say.
Residents welcomed the arrival of government troops.
”We were besieged by Islamic State and we were forbidden from many things, and the terror was killing all. Now, thank God, we feel good with the presence of the security forces, order and security has been restored,” Ismael Idriss Agha, a resident of the re-taken area said.
Islamic State has fought from among crowded residential areas and Reuters witnesses have seen its fighters shoot at civilians in areas they have been driven out of, in apparent efforts to slow the advance of Iraqi forces. Several thousand civilians have been killed or wounded in fighting since October. Advances slowed towards the end of last year as the military sought to avoid hitting civilians, Iraqi military officials say.
Soldiers were clearing houses and streets. One unit dismantled an explosive belt while other members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) cleared the area with military vehicles ploughing through the destroyed streets.