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BAGHDAD – Iraqi special forces cleared buildings on Saturday in neighborhoods they entered in eastern Mosul a day earlier, losing some ground in counterattacks after pushing out Islamic State militants in their drive to take back the city.
Here is a look at the main developments on the 19th day of the Mosul Offensive:
Islamic State group fighters launched counterattacks in the thin strip of territory Iraqi special forces have recaptured, emerging from populated areas deeper in the city to target the troops with mortars and suicide car bombs.
The extremists also attacked farther into territory Iraqi forces claim to control, pushing back some gains along the southern edge of the Gogjali district that Iraqi forces declared "liberated" on Wednesday.
Fighting continued in the morning, with both sides firing mortars and automatic weapons on each other's positions, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Clashes were most intense in the al-Bakr neighborhood. Sniper duels played out from rooftops in the mostly residential areas, where the majority of buildings are two stories high.
SOUTHERN APPROACHES FORTIFIED
More evidence of the daunting fortifications emerged on Saturday, with satellite images showing that IS has set up defenses to bog down advancing forces, including rows of concrete barricades, earth berms and rubble blocking key routes leading to the center of the city.
The images taken Monday and made public by Stratfor, a private intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas, also showed that IS fighters have cleared terrain and leveled buildings around Mosul airport and a nearby former military base on the west bank of the Tigris. The defenses "will pose a substantial tactical challenge" to advancing Iraqi troops as they make their way toward central Mosul, the firm said.
Advances toward Mosul have been slower from the south, with government troops still some 20 miles (35 kilometers) away, yet some advances are being made. Iraqi forces assaulted IS positions in the town of Hamam al-Alil on Saturday, which lies along the Tigris river about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the southernmost parts of Mosul.
Kurdish television channel Rudaw broadcast live footage of Iraqi troops and armored vehicles amassing outside the city as an attack helicopter fired rockets into the city.
Truckloads full of as many as 1,600 civilians may have been forcibly moved from Hamam al-Alil to Tal Afar earlier this week and may be transferred onward into Syria for possible use as human shields, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Friday. Another 150 families from the town were moved to Mosul itself, the U.N. said.