Middle East

Iraqi troops push into IS-held villages north of Mosul

  • Civilians flee their villages because of fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

    Civilians flee their villages because of fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)  (The Associated Press)

  • Civilians flee their villages due to fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

    Civilians flee their villages due to fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)  (The Associated Press)

  • Civilians flee their villages because of fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

    Civilians flee their villages because of fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)  (The Associated Press)

An Iraqi officer says the army is pushing into villages held by the Islamic State group north of Mosul.

Lt. Col. Diya Lafta says troops from his 9th Division began advancing toward two villages just north of the city on Thursday morning and "after a few hours they were liberated" from IS militants.

By afternoon, the village of Shereikhan had been largely freed of IS but fighting continued in the villages beyond.

The push along the northern edge of Iraq's second largest city comes after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier this week declared Mosul's eastern half to be completely free of IS.

Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul in October.

IS still firmly controls Mosul's west, where U.N. estimates that some 750,000 civilians are still living.