Mosul Airport: Iraqi forces today entered Mosul airport, which lies on the southern edge of the city, for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014.
Backed by jets, gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers.
The interior ministry's Rapid Response units, followed by federal police forces, entered the airport compound from the southwest after pushing north from the village of Al-Buseif.
"We have entered the airport and engineering units are clearing the roads," Hisham Abdul Kadhem, commander of the Rapid Response's Scorpion Regiment, told AFP inside the airport.
Attack helicopters fired rockets at an old sugar factory that stands next to the perimeter wall, sending a cloud of ash floating across the area.
On the road leading to the southern end of the airport, the body of an IS fighter lay next to a motorbike.
While there was no evidence of fierce resistance from within the airport, Iraqi forces continued to rain fire on the area, including on the sugar factory which they suspected still sheltered IS snipers.
Little was left standing inside the perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble. Most buildings were completely levelled.
The regional command said elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service were simultaneously attacking the neighbouring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized Mosul in June 2014.
Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighbourhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.
All of the city's bridges across the river have been blown up.
The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces were seen on the front lines.
The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.
"They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul," Dorrian told reporters yesterday.
He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.
The latest push to retake Mosul, the second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.
They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists are defending the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.
There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city's west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.
It is home to the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.
The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.
Residents AFP has reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.