Iraq also records large number of people leaving war zone
QAYYARAH, Iraq: A top US Army general on Tuesday flew in to an airbase south of Mosul that will prove vital in Iraqi forces’ offensive on the Islamic State-held city.
US Army General Joseph Votel, who heads the military’s Central Command, arrived at the base, which boasts a newly repaired runway, on a cargo plane to see the facility and receive an update on the battle for Mosul.
Votel’s C-130 cargo plane touched down in total darkness, one of the first fixed-wing aircraft in years to land at the base.
“This is where supplies will come into, it’s where Iraqi forces will come into. Being able to sustain the fight for the Iraqi forces will be critical, and this airfield will play a very important role,” Votel told reporters traveling with him.
The four-star general was accompanied by Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, who heads the coalition effort supporting and training Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga units as they attack IS.
They said the campaign to recapture Mosul is continuing apace, but cautioned IS defences will grow stronger the closer Iraqi forces get to the city.
The Islamic State group “has used an extraordinary amount of indirect fire — mortars, artillery and rockets — and an exceptional number of VBIEDs over the last eight days,” Townsend said, referring to vehicle-borne suicide car bombs.
The battle for Mosul that has been raging for the past nine days has also made a large number of Iraqis leave the area and seek help from the government.
In Baghdad, a minister said on Wednesday that more than 3,300 have sought help from the government on day nine of its offensive to retake Mosul, the most for a single day so far, a minister said Wednesday.
The number is far short of the hundreds of thousands that aid agencies have been bracing for but the offensive is still in its early stages and many more are expected to flee as troops approach the city itself.
On Tuesday, there was “a big wave of displaced people that is considered the greatest number since the start of the military operation to liberate Nineveh province,” Displacement and Migration Minister Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff said in a statement.
“The ministry received and transported more than 3,300 displaced people” to camps, he said.
Most fled homes in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, but some left from Kirkuk to its west or Salaheddin to its south.
According to a UN tally, 8,940 people have been displaced since the operation to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State group began on October 17.
The number so far is a drop in the ocean compared with the more than three million people who have been displaced by violence in Iraq since the start of 2014.
But the UN refugee agency expects tens of thousands to flee in the coming days and is establishing camps with a total of 30,000 tents, enough to accommodate 150,000 people.