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Iraq Troops Advance on Western Mosul   02/21 06:17

   SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi forces advanced Monday into the southern 
outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive Islamic State militants 
from the city's western half, as the visiting U.S. defense secretary met with 
officials to discuss the fight against the extremists.

   With aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi police and army 
troops launched the offensive Sunday, part of a 100-day-old campaign that has 
already driven the militants from the eastern half of the city.

   Iraqi helicopters fired rockets at the village of Abu Saif early Monday, 
targeting a hill that overlooks the city's airport. By noon, the forces entered 
the village and gained control over much of the strategic hill as fighting was 
still raging.

   Separately, militarized police in armored vehicles were moving toward the 
sprawling Ghazlani military base on the southwestern outskirts of the city.

   A U.S.-led coalition has been providing close air support throughout the 
campaign to retake Iraq's second-largest city. U.S. special operations forces 
are embedded with some Iraqi units and thousands of U.S. troops are in Iraq 
providing logistical and other support.

   Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was holding discussions with 
U.S. and Iraqi officials, a week before he is expected to present a new 
strategy to President Donald Trump for defeating the Islamic State group.

   "We're going to make certain that we've got good situational awareness of 
what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other," Mattis told 
reporters traveling with him.

   Trump has repeatedly vowed to eliminate the extremist group but has provided 
few details about how his approach might differ from that of the Obama 
administration, which had partnered with Syrian and Iraqi forces to drive IS 
out of several towns and cities.

   The battle for western Mosul, the extremist group's last major urban bastion 
in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet.

   The streets are older and narrower in that sector of the city, which 
stretches west from the Tigris River, forcing Iraqi soldiers to leave the 
relative safety of their armored vehicles. The presence of up to 750,000 
civilians also poses a challenge.

   Two suicide car bombers struck army and paramilitary forces west of Mosul on 
Monday, killing and wounding a number of troops, two army officers said, 
without specifying the number of casualties. A third suicide car bomber was 
blown up before reaching the troops, they said, speaking on condition of 
anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

   IS claimed responsibility for two attacks in an online statement, saying the 
attackers were British and Iraqi.


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