(Reuters) – Iraqi special forces said they pushed deeper into Mosul on Friday despite heavy resistance from Islamic State militants using civilians as cover, and were holding half a dozen city neighborhoods seized in the last 10 days.
The elite Counter Terrorism Service troops broke through Islamic State defense lines to enter the city early last week and have since been embroiled in a brutal, close-quarter combat with waves of suicide bombers and snipers.
The special forces are the spearhead of a wider coalition of 100,000 fighters seeking to crush a few thousand Islamic State jihadists who have ruled Mosul, the biggest city of their cross-border “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, for the last two years.
The campaign, nearly four weeks old, is the most complex military operation in Iraq in the 13 years of turmoil since the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Security forces and army infantry divisions, backed by a U.S.-led air force, are preparing to move on southern and northern districts of Mosul in coming days, to step up pressure on the militants.
Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite paramilitary forces are holding territory to the northeast and to the west.
On the eastern front, special forces pushed into the Qadisiya al-Thaniya district, on the northern edge of the small pocket of neighborhoods they control so far, Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for the Counter Terrorism Service, told Reuters.
“We have encountered heavy resistance from the enemy,” he said, describing what he called “obstructive patrols” of militant forces trying to hold up the advance.
“We are facing the most difficult form of urban warfare, fighting with the presence of civilians, but our forces are trained for this sort of combat.”
Military officers have told Reuters that the fighting is some of the most lethal they have seen, with small groups of militants using a vast network of tunnels and narrow streets to launch an apparently endless sequence of attacks against troops.