Members of the Iraqi army gather in central Falluja, Iraq, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
4 hours ago
NEAR MOSUL – Iraqi forces opened a second front on Saturday (June 18) in preparation for an assault on the Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold of Mosul, a day after government troops declared victory over the militants in Fallujah.
Mosul is Iraq's largest northern city and ISIS’ de facto capital in the country.
Government troops cleared two villages and pressed around 20 kilometers (12 miles) along a desert route west of Baiji, the first advance past the town since its recapture in October, security officials said.
Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi said the assault marked the launch of operations to push ISIS out of Qayara north of Baiji, where an airfield could serve as the staging ground for a future offensive on Mosul, a further 60 km north.
"This is the demarcation line with terrorist groups, 24 km (15 miles) north of Baiji city, the troops started the operations of Gayyara liberation, God willing, our forces will achieve victory in the coming hours," said al-Obeidi.
Army troops on a separate front pushing west from Makhmour for the past three months have made only halting progress on the opposite side of the Tigris River.
Militants tried to slow the troops' advance north of Baiji with mortar attacks.
Suicide car bombs, hideouts and militants were taken out by air strikes before reaching their targets, though dusty weather was making it difficult to target militants and slowing the advance.