BAGHDAD, March 24 (UPI) -- The Iraqi military launched a long-awaited operation Thursday to take back the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State.
The operation, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga troops and a Shiite-dominated paramilitary force, began at dawn on Thursday by taking back several villages on the outskirts of Makhmur, located east of Mosul. An Iraqi flag has been hoisted.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren, with Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Iraqi military hopes to isolate Mosul by taking surrounding areas first.
"The Iraqis have announced an operation in Makhmur to liberate several villages in the vicinity. The coalition is supporting the operation with air power," he told USA Today.
Mosul, the country's second largest city, was taken over by the IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, in June 2014. With a population of about 2 million, it is the largest city in the IS' self-declared caliphate.
Officials said they hope to completely seize the land within a year, but it is unclear if Iraqi forces have the ability to do so.