The United States said Thursday that up to 900 Daesh group militants have been killed in the offensive to seize control again over Iraq’s Mosul, as camps around the city filled with fleeing civilians.
Iraqis who fled their homes expressed joy at escaping Daesh’s brutal rule as they were given shelter and assistance.
The offensive, launched on October 17, is seeing tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters advancing on Mosul from the south, east and north.
Backed with air and ground support from a US-led coalition, federal forces allied with Kurdish peshmerga fighters have taken a string of towns and villages in a cautious but steady advance.
There are between 3,500 and 5,000 ISIS militants in Mosul and up to another 2,000 in the broader area, according to US estimates.
The offensive has so far been concentrated in towns and villages around Mosul, with Iraqi forces later expected to breach city limits and engage Daesh in street-to-street fighting.
Aid workers have warned of a major humanitarian crisis when fighting begins in earnest for Mosul, where thousands have already been fleeing surrounding areas.
Iraq’s ministry of displacement and migration said Thursday that more than 11,700 people had been displaced since the operation began.
“There’s been quite a dramatic upturn in the last few days. As the Iraqi troops get closer to Mosul, more people are getting displaced, there are more populated areas,” said Karl Schembri, regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
At a camp in Khazir, about mid-way between Mosul and the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil, Massud Ismail Hassan said food and drinks and blankets will be distributed once all procedures are finished. One citizen, Saddam Dahham, who lived under Daesh control in a village near Mosul for more than two years, fled to Khazir with his wife and their three children.
“We were not allowed to smoke, to use phones, not allowed to watch TV and we had to let our beards grow long,” the 36-year-old said.
One of the first things he did after arriving at the camp was joyfully shave the “heavy thing dangling from my chin,” Dahham said.
“I’m finally going to resume a normal life,” the former truck driver said.