Iraqi federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters advancing on Mosul moved forward in several areas over the weekend, but faced stiff resistance from "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) fighters on Monday (October 24th), AFP reported.
International coalition aircraft unleashed an unprecedented wave of airstrikes to support the week-old offensive, but the extremists were hitting back with shelling, sniper fire, suicide car bombs and booby traps.
ISIL has also attempted to draw attention away from losses around Mosul with attacks on Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country , the latest coming on Sunday on al-Rutbah near the Jordanian border.
Hundreds of ISIL fighters dead
The offensive, launched on October 17th, aims to retake towns and villages surrounding Mosul before elite troops will breach the city and engage ISIL fighters in street-to-street fighting.
Over the past week, security forces backed by the international coalition have killed 772 ISIL fighters, arrested 23 others, and destroyed 127 car bombs, 27 mortars, 16 machine guns, seven explosive vests and a large weapons cache, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence said in a Monday statement.
Security forces have also "dismantled four booby-trapped houses, blown up 397 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), destroyed 11 resting houses, three tunnels, an ISIL command centre, six anti-aircraft guns and three DShK", the statement said.
They "seized 1.5 tonnes of nitrate ammonia, nine 120-mm mortars, 380 mortars, one 60-mm mortar, 61 Katyushas, 31 rockets, three PKC machine guns and four RPG7s", the statement added.
Following a weekend visit to Iraq by US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, American officials said the coalition was providing the most air support yet to the operation.
"One week into Mosul operation, all objectives met thus far, and more coalition airstrikes than any other 7-day period of war against ISIL," Brett McGurk, the top US envoy to the coalition, wrote on social media.
On Sunday, Iraqi forces battled through booby-traps, sniper fire and suicide car bombs to tighten the noose around Mosul, while also hunting ISIL fighters behind attacks elsewhere in the country.
Kurdish forces announced a new push at dawn on Bashiqa, north-east of Mosul, where some 10,000 fighters are engaged in a huge assault to take the ISIL-held town. They have so far secured eight villages near Bashiqa.
On the eastern side of Mosul, federal troops were battling ISIL on Monday in Qaraqosh, which used to be the largest Christian town in the country.
Army forces entered the town for the third day running but armoured convoys deployed around it were met with shelling from inside, AFP reported.
Federal forces also scored gains on the southern front, where they have been making quick progress, taking one village after another as they work their way up the Tigris Valley.
Civilians fleeing the fighting
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the coalition, said Saturday that ISIL resistance was stiff.
"It is pretty significant, we are talking about enemy indirect fire, multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs), multiple VBIED (vehicle-borne IEDs) each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles," he said in Baghdad.
"We have a shortage of human resources, medical equipment, medicine and specialised doctors," Lawand Meran, a doctor at Erbil West hospital, said.
"Soon, if we have 1,000 casualties, our capacity will not be enough."
Several thousand civilians fleeing the fighting and ISIL have escaped to camps for the displaced south of Mosul .
"Over 5,000 people are currently displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance," the UN said in an update on Sunday.
"Population movements are fluctuating as the front lines move, including people returning to their homes following improved security conditions in the immediate area," it said in a statement.
Iraqi forces are now fighting in sparsely populated areas but when they near the limits of the city itself, aid groups fear the start of a huge exodus.