QAYARA AIR BASE, Iraq (AP) — Reinforcements have been sent to eastern Mosul after a major Islamic State counterattack drove troops back last week, further slowing a nearly two-month-old offensive to retake the city, according to an Iraqi commander.
Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabouri said Saturday that Federal Police and Iraqi army units have moved from the southern front to the city's east, where most of the fighting has been concentrated in recent weeks. Iraqi commanders had hoped to push up from the south to take Mosul's international airport, but those plans appear to be on hold.
Iraqi forces are still largely dependent on airstrikes and artillery to clear territory, which has frustrated progress on the ground in Mosul due to the hundreds of thousands of civilians still living in the city.
Cpt. Alexandre, a commander of a French artillery unit stationed at Qayara air base, estimated that his men had fired more than a thousand rounds from the base since the Mosul operation was launched in October. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition that only his first name and rank be published due to French government restrictions.
"Artillery provides us with flexibility to conduct precision strikes," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alison Thompson, explaining that in urban environments precision strikes are used to minimize damage to infrastructure.
Coalition planes carried out nine airstrikes in and around Mosul on Friday, destroying buildings, vehicles and supply routes, according to a Pentagon statement released Saturday.
Also Saturday, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah announced in a written statement that Iraq's special forces had retaken two more neighborhoods in eastern Mosul bringing them within a few kilometers of the Tigris river which roughly divides the city's east from west.
Iraqi troops were driven back last week within hours of seizing the al-Salam hospital in eastern Mosul, which IS had been using as a base. More than 20 soldiers were killed before special forces opened a corridor for them to retreat.