Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Iraqi security forces advanced toward the strategic Mosul International Airport in their efforts to capture the city's west from the Islamic State.
Iraqi military sources said joint teams from the Federal Police and the Rapid Response Squads moved toward the airport early Wednesday with airstrike and artillery support from the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State.
The airport and the al-Ghazlaniya military base are the Iraqi security forces' first main targets in the operation to take west Mosul, which began on Sunday. So far, Iraqi forces have taken nearly 50,000 square miles of territory in the offensive that is being spearheaded south of west Mosul, Iraq's Federal Police said.
Iraqi Federal Police Chief Shaker Jawdat said bombing targeting the airport killed dozens of Islamic State militants and forced others to flee the facility after Iraq captured the al-Bouseif hills, which overlook the airport.
The United Nations estimates from 650,000 to 750,000 civilians are currently in Mosul amid a humanitarian crisis in which shortages of food, water and fuel are widespread. People who have fled the city tell of executions for those caught attempting to leave.
"We had no life, no water, no food. They didn't allow anyone to leave their neighborhoods. They shot indiscriminately," a young man who fled Mosul to a humanitarian camp told Rudaw.