The Latest on fighting against Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq (all times local):

11:35 a.m.

A Syrian official and a an opposition monitoring group say Syrian government forces are 1 kilometer (half mile) away from the heart of Palmyra, an ancient town controlled by the Islamic State group.

Homs governor Talal Barazi tells The Associated Press that the army has determined three directions to storm the town and is now clearing all roads leading to Palmyra from mines and explosives.

Barazi said Thursday he's predicting an "overwhelming victory in Palmyra" within the next 48 hours.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the troops are facing tough resistance from IS extremists as they try to penetrate the town's eastern and southern limits.

The Islamic State group has controlled Palmyra since May and has destroyed many of its famed archaeological sites.

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9 a.m.

An Iraqi military spokesman says the long-awaited military operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants "has begun."

The spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, says Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, on Thursday morning.

Rasool says the U.S.-led international coalition is providing air support. He wouldn't divulge more details.

It was not immediately clear how long such a complex and taxing operation could take. Mosul lies 360 kilometers, or 225 miles, northwest of Baghdad.

It's Iraq's second-largest city and it fell to Islamic State group during the militants' June 2014 onslaught. Mosul is also the largest city in the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate.