Iraqi forces prepare for offensive to retake Mosul
Iraqi forces patrol the outskirts of Ramadi. (AFP/File)
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The Iraqi army said its troops started a major offensive on Saturday to retake a strategic town from Daesh near the extremist militia's northern stronghold of Mosul.
The onslaught, backed by US-led airstrikes, is aimed at "liberating" the town of Qayyara south of Mosul, the army said in a statement.
The operation comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the recapture of the western city of Fallujah from Daesh.
Qayyara is strategically important because it is the seat of an air base that government forces want to retake in order to use it as a launch pad for a long-delayed attack to dislodge Daesh from Mosul.
"The Iraqi forces are advancing towards the south of Mosul in a multi-direction operation," spokesman for the operation's command, Brigadier Yehia Rasul, said.
He added that government forces launched pre-emptive hits at Daesh posts with the aim of cutting off the militants' supply routes in the area.
The recapture of Qayyara would help isolate Mosul, located around 400 kilometres north of the capital Baghdad.
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has been under Daesh control since mid-2014.
By Kadhem al-Attabi and Ziad Haris