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NRT: Iraqi, Kurdish forces make rapid progress in Mosul operation

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The Iraqi army has been moving from the south, and special forces have now joined the offensive. The convoy engaged IS in an intense gun battle some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from Mosul.

Abadi announced the start of the offensive to retake Mosul on Monday, two years after the city fell to the militants, who declared from its Grand Mosque a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.

Plans for the offensive were marked by tensions between Iraq and Turkey, which insisted on being part of the operation despite objections from Baghdad.

Iraqi officials and residents of Mosul say Islamic State is preventing people from leaving the city, in effect using them as shields to complicate air strikes and the ground progress of the attacking forces.

Tarik Kadir, head of Save the Children's response to the Mosul crisis, said that "conditions there are among the worst we've seen, and we expect thousands more people to be on their way soon".

The Iraqi military overnight called on Iraqis fighting for ISIS in Mosul to surrender amid a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city, where up to 6,000 fighters are believed to be preparing for a climactic battle.

Mosul is a Sunni majority town, and many fear the involvement of the Shia militias in the operation could stoke sectarian tensions.

From Paris, Hollande said there is evidence Islamic State militants are fleeing, but the hope is they won't regroup in the Syrian bastion of Raqqa.

Vladamir Van Wilgenberg, a journalist embedded on the front line with the Kurdish Peshmerga army, told i24news that "both Iraqi and Kurdish forces are advancing, they haven't entered Mosul yet, despite reports, they are still clearing out the surrounding areas of Mosul city".

Sweeping gains are being reported in a multi-pronged assault by Iraqi government forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters - the latter mounting a major offensive to Mosul's north and east.

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While the Liberal government withdrew Canada's fighter jets from Iraq and Syria earlier this year, about 170 special forces troops from Canada are providing support for Kurdish forces.

The fighting thus far has been concentrated in a cluster of towns and villages outside Mosul that are mostly uninhabited and littered with roadside bombs planted by the militants, which has slowed the Iraqi advance.

Separately on Thursday, the United States said an American soldier had been killed in a roadside bomb attack in northern Iraq.

Refugee camps are being built in the south, east and north of Mosul in preparation for a flood of people fleeing the city.

At the third and final presidential debate Wednesday, Republican candidate Donald Trump suggested that Iraqi forces launched an operation to capture Mosul from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) to make Hillary Clinton "look good".

The whereabouts of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are unknown.

"God willing, we will take this town today", he told the news agency.

"Where they are going, I will leave that to our (missile) targeteers to take care of", Volesky said.

The U.S. military is carrying out airstrikes and artillery shelling in support of the operation.

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