U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces have entered Mosul’s main airport, a major stronghold of the extremist Islamic State group.
The security forces, including rapid response teams, federal police and counter-terrorism units, stormed the facility and a nearby military base earlier Thursday.
Reuters news agency says Iraqi state television announced the rapid response forces and federal police “are fully in control of the airport of Mosul.”
Thursday’s assault on the airport and military base, which lie on the edge of southern Mosul, is part of a major operation aimed at routing IS forces from western Mosul that began Sunday. Iraqi forces liberated eastern Mosul last month from IS, which captured the city in 2014.
Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Iraq and vowed that the U.S. will support Iraq in its fight against IS.
When asked if the United States would stay in Iraq after the battle for Mosul had ended, he said, “I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other.”
There are an estimated 750,000 civilians in western Mosul, essentially under siege by Iraqi forces, along with IS fighters.
Many of those civilians in western Mosul were forced out of the eastern part of the city during heavy fighting there last month.
Meanwhile, aid agencies are worried and preparing for the possibility that up to 250,000 people might flee the Mosul in the coming days or weeks.
The U.N. refugee agency has said it focusing its efforts on building new camps to house the displaced. The UNHCR has completed eight camps and says it is planning to start work at another site south of Mosul.