Iraq launches offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State fighters

Iraqi armed forces have started an operation to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, who have held the beleaguered city for nearly two years.

“The first phase of the Fatah (Conquest) Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh, raising the Iraqi flag in several villages,” state TV reported in a military statement on Thursday.

The Iraqi military has recaptured the villages of al-Nasr, Garmandi, Kudila and Khurburdan in its quest to retake Mosul this year, according to the statement.

About 2 million people lived in Iraq’s second largest city before the Islamic State, or ISIL, siege in June 2014. Since then, some residents, including Yazidis, Turkmen and other ethnic and religious minorities have fled to other parts of the country.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this year that U.S. special operations forces were in place to help Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces “begin going after ISIL’s fighters and commanders, killing or capturing them wherever we find them, along with other key targets.”

The commander of the U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State group, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, has said the operation will be a long one and that Iraqi generals acknowledge they probably won’t be able to recapture Mosul until the end of 2016 or early 2017.