Iraqi forces pushing to capture the western part of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) militants have taken control of the city’s disused airport, Iraqi state television is reporting.
State TV flashed that government forces "are fully in control of the airport of Mosul” on February 23, hours after Iraqi forces launched a concerted effort to capture it.
The troops came under heavy fire from IS militants barricaded inside airport buildings. Officials said forces from the U.S.-led international coalition were contributing to the assault.
Earlier, Lebanese television showed at least one Iraqi helicopter hovering over the airport and firing into the main airport building.
In separate fighting, officials said an elite counterterrorism force had reached the IS-held Ghazlani military base near the airport amid fierce fighting. It is reportedly the first time this unit has been used in the Mosul offensive.
Earlier this month, Iraqi forces, aided by the U.S.-led international coalition, launched the operation to capture the western part of Mosul.
Officials said the operation has captured 120 square kilometers of territory since February 19.
Iraqi officials also said troops could enter western Mosul in the next few days.
Mosul fell to IS fighters in the summer of 2014. The part of the city on the eastern side of the Tigris River was liberated one month ago.
U.S. officials said on February 20 that some 2,000 IS fighters were still entrenched in the city.
Some 750,000 civilians remain in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last IS stronghold in the country.
Officials have said taking the western part of the city could be particularly difficult because it contains older neighborhoods with narrow, densely developed streets. Iraqi forces will have a much harder time using their armored vehicles there.
On the western side of the city, government-supported Shi’ite militias were also reportedly on the offensive, in a coordinated drive to capture villages on the outskirts of the city.
Capturing the airport and the Ghazlani military base would be significant milestones in the government’s 4-month-old drive to push IS back.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP