DEFENCE Secretary Sir Michael Fallon yesterday insisted that Islamic State are “on the back foot” as Britain joined the battle to free Iraq’s second city.
The minister predicted a successful push for Mosul after RAF fighter planes and drones destroyed strategic IS positions and weapons caches.
Seven days of intensive activity by Typhoons, Tornados and Reaper unmanned planes prepared the ground for 35,000 Iraqi foot soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Experts believe the Allies will oust the terror group from its key Iraqi stronghold after a two-year occupation. But aid groups fear a slaughter of the innocents as the terrorists – also known as Daesh – take the battle deeper into civilian neighbourhoods. They called for secure escape routes from the city to be established and safe houses to be set up to house refugees.
Sir Michael said: “Daesh are on the back foot. The beginning of the encirclement of Mosul today is a big moment in our efforts to rid Iraq of Daesh. Mosul is a large and complex city and operations there will be tough, but with Coalition support Iraqi forces will prevail.”
Residents of the city 250 miles north of Baghdad had been advised by local forces to stay inside their homes and raise a white flag outside. They have suffered more than two years of persecution, with IS fanatics handing out punishments such as flogging for “offences” including smoking.
About 8,000 IS fighters remain in the oil-rich city and military leaders expect the battle to last at least two months.
As fighting began, witnesses reported hearing explosions in outlying suburbs and seeing black plumes of smoke.
IS thugs are believed to have dug themselves into tunnels and trenches, and booby traps and suicide bombings were used to target Kurdish troops.
Resident Abu Maher said: “Daesh are using motorcycles for their patrols to evade air detection.
“We set up a fortified room in the house by putting sandbags to block the only window and we removed everything dangerous or flammable.
“I spent almost all my money on buying food, baby milk and anything we might need.”
Another local, Abu Abdullah, added: “We heard repeated explosions at a distance, so I went to the rooftop to see fireballs, even if it was dangerous.
“I was happy that the operation to liberate Mosul started.”
The UN warns the battle could make up to a million homeless and see civilians gassed or used as human shields.
Officials have set up camps for 200,000 expected to flee Mosul and its surrounds in the first weeks of the offensive alone.
They have stockpiled 50,000 emergency shelter kits containing timber, tools and tarpaulins, while another 30,000 kits are expected.
Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor said: “Everything possible must be done to safeguard the lives of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who live there.”