Iraq has launched what a military spokesman says is no less than a battle for the country's future: An operation to retake Mosul, once the country's second-largest city, from ISIS, which seized it more than two years ago, has begun. The US-led coalition is supporting Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces in the operation. "The hour of victory has come, the operation to liberate Mosul has started," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address to the nation early Monday, the BBC reports. The offensive, many months in the planning, follows more than one false start and is expected to last weeks or even months.
"This is the final battle. This is to be or not to be," a spokesman for Iraqi special forces says, per BuzzFeed. "The future of Iraq is at stake in Mosul. And we will be in the front." The Guardian reports that the operation will involve at least 35,000 troops, including American, British, and French special forces, who have been advising peshmerga forces and will play a key role in calling in airstrikes. ISIS—which has mined roads leading to Mosul and lit oil fires to slow Monday's offensive—is believed to have at least 6,000 fighters in the city. The UN fears that more than a million civilians could be forced to flee their homes during the operation, the AP reports.