The U.S. military says that Iraqi forces have "trapped" ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq, and recaptured a third of the city that had been taken over by the Islamic State militants.
ISIS "is trapped. Just last night, the 9th Iraqi Army Division ... cut off the last road out of Mosul," said Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, according to the Agence French-Presse.
"Any of the fighters left in Mosul, they’re going to die there," McGurk said during a visit to Baghdad, according to Voice of America."So it is a matter of time right now before ISIS is totally defeated, but I do not want to understate the very difficult fight that lies ahead and nobody can put a timeframe on how long will this take, but the Iraqi security forces will complete this mission."
Iraq's Joint Operations Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said ISIS resistance has "begun to weaken in a big way," but defeating the militant group "is not easy."
"We are fighting an irregular enemy who hides among the citizens and uses tactics of booby-trapping, explosions and suicide bombers, and the operation is taking place with precision to preserve the lives of the citizens," Rasool said, according to the AFP.
James Jeffrey, a former ambassador and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was a bit more optimistic about the upcoming fight to defeat ISIS, telling VOA that the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces "have a huge victory coming," in part the beleaguered ISIS fighters are so outnumbered by this point.
"Estimates that I saw over the last couple of days say as many as 5,000 [ISIS fighters], but it could be well less than that," he said."Certainly I would say that's the highest number, and they're surrounded by about 90,000 [Iraqi] troops at this point."
According to Reuters, losing control of Mosul would be a major blow to ISIS. Mosul, with a population of more than 600,000 residents, is the largest city the militant group has captured since its official formation in 2014.
The city of Mosul was overtaken by ISIS in October, 2016. Since then, more than 200,000 residents have fled the city, with 65,000 fleeing in just the past two weeks as fighting there has intensified, according to numbers from the International Organization for Migration.
Reuters also reported that, as Iraqi forces have beaten back ISIS and gradually taken more control over the city, more evidence of war crimes committed by the Sunni Islamist militants against Shi'ite Muslims and other religious minorities has emerged.