The Iraqi military, backed by US-led coalition aircraft, has launched a long-awaited operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from ISIS, a military spokesman says. In the push, Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, early Thursday morning and hoisted the Iraqi flag, according to Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Military Command. It was not immediately clear how long such a complex and taxing offensive would take. Only recently, officials refrained to give a specific time on when the Mosul operation could begin, saying it would take many months to prepare Iraq's still struggling military for the long-anticipated task of retaking the key city.
Iraqi state-run TV interrupted its morning program Thursday with a series of news alerts announcing the operation and broadcasting patriotic songs and flag-waving video clips. Rasool tells the AP that the US-led international coalition was providing air support, but he won't divulge more details on the offensive, which he says is dubbed "Operation Conquest." Mosul—Iraq's second-largest city—fell to ISIS during the militants' June 2014 onslaught that captured large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Rasool's declaration comes only a few days after the US announced that it has set up a small Marine artillery outpost in northern Iraq to protect a nearby Iraqi military base in Makhmour. A rocket attack at the base on Saturday killed a US Marine and wounded several others. (More Mosul stories.)