Iraqi federal police pushed their way into the perimeter of Mosul International Airport on Thursday, taking control of the runway amid fierce exchanges of fire with ISIS militants hunkered down in several airport buildings, police officials say. The advance came as part of a major assault that started Sunday to drive ISIS from the western half of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Police officials tell the AP that after police forces pushed onto the airport grounds and seized the runway, they came under heavy fire from inside the buildings at the site, including the main airport building.
The officials would not provide more details but said heavy exchanges were underway. They said troops from the US-led coalition were with the advancing forces, though they didn't specify the nationalities of the foreign forces. On Sunday, after weeks of preparations, Iraqi forces officially launched the operation to take Mosul's western half. Since then, the military says they have retaken nearly 50 square miles south of the city. In January, Iraqi authorities declared the eastern half of Mosul "fully liberated" from ISIS, but the battle for the old, narrow streets of western Mosul, the extremist group's last major urban bastion in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet. (Read more Mosul stories.)