BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) – The Latest on the campaign to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group (all times local):
2:15 p.m. – France’s foreign minister is warning that up to a million people might try to flee the fighting in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and says authorities must check each one to make sure Islamic State extremists aren’t escaping among the civilians.
Jean-Marc Ayrault also stressed that the long-awaited, multi-pronged battle for Mosul is only one piece of the campaign against IS, and that the international community must think about “the next step” – notably, the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. Ayrault was speaking to journalists after a conference on the Mosul situation in Paris on Thursday
Ayrault said “hundreds of thousands, if not a million” people might try to flee Mosul as Iraqi forces battle to take it back from extremist control. France is part of the U.S.-led military coalition helping with the Iraqi operation
1:15 p.m. – An officer in Iraq’s special forces says Islamic State militants deployed nine suicide car bombs as troops advanced to the town of Bartella outside the IS-held northern city of Mosul.
Lt. Col. Muntadhar al-Shimmari told The Associated Press on Thursday that one bomb hit a Humvee and that eight others were detonated by troops before they could reach their targets.
Al-Shimmari didn’t give a casualty figure, but another officer said five soldiers were wounded. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
Iraq on Monday launched the long-awaited military operation to retake Mosul which fell into the hands of IS more than two years ago.
– Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Bartella, Iraq
12:15 p.m. – Iraqi special forces have entered a town near Mosul hours after joining a massive operation to retake the Islamic State-held city.
An Associated Press reporter traveling with the elite force says they entered the town of Bartella from the east on Thursday after a heavy gunbattle that saw IS militants unleash a number of suicide truck bombs. It was not immediately clear if there had been any casualties.
The long-awaited operation to retake Mosul began Monday and is expected to take weeks, if not months.
IS captured Iraq’s second largest city when it swept across the country in the summer of 2014. The group has suffered a string of defeats over the last year, and Mosul is its last urban bastion in Iraq.
11:45 a.m. – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says the battle to oust Islamic State extremists from Mosul is going “more quickly than we thought.”
Al-Abadi spoke in a video transmission Thursday to a diplomatic meeting about Mosul in Paris about stabilizing Iraq’s second-largest city. He didn’t provide details about the fighting.
Al-Abadi said that “our forces have started to move forward to free this city which was taken by IS over two years ago. The fighting forces are currently pushing forward toward the town more quickly than we thought, and more quickly certainly than we established in our plan of campaign.”
Authorities have said they expect the battle to take weeks or even months.
11 a.m. – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is vowing to protect civilians displaced by the battle to oust Islamic State extremists from Mosul, and to respect the human rights of the region’s diverse population.
Al-Abadi spoke by video transmission Thursday to a conference in Paris aimed at forming a stabilization plan for Mosul after the multi-pronged battle for Iraq’s second-largest city.
He says the government is “providing support for internally displaced people,” and opening humanitarian corridors amid the ongoing military operations. “We will not allow any violations of human rights,” he said.
He stressed that the battle is led by Iraq and not a foreign invasion, though it has military support from a broad U.S.-led coalition. He also praised the diverse nature of today’s Iraqi forces, including Kurdish peshmerga, saying “we are closer to full unity, showing complete determination to vanquish terrorism.”
Al-Abadi said “pockets of resistance” remain but residents of the region have largely welcomed the advancing Iraqi forces.
10 a.m. – Islamic State militants have unleashed at least four suicide car bombs against Iraqi special forces as they advanced on the militant-held town of Bartella east of Mosul.
One of the car bombs exploded after being shot by a tank. It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed or wounded in the attacks.
Iraqi special forces charged into battle early Thursday, joining a massive operation to retake the IS-held city of Mosul. The fighting is concentrated in largely uninhabited villages on the outskirts of the city.
It’s not clear when Iraqi forces will reach the city itself, and the operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.
6:30 a.m. – An Iraqi general says special forces have joined the Mosul offensive with a pre-dawn advance on a nearby town held by the Islamic State group.
Gen. Maan al-Saadi says the elite Counterterrorism Forces advanced on the town of Bartella with the aid of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery on Thursday, the fourth day of a massive operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.
The special forces are expected to lead the way into the city itself, where they will face fierce resistance in an urban landscape where IS militants are preparing for a climactic battle.
The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. It is expected to take weeks, if not months.