The long awaited fight to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group has begun.
U.S.-led coalition forces are backing Iraqi and Kurdish troops in what is expected to be the toughest military operation since American troops left the country five years ago.
The Iraqi army dropped leaflets and magazines over Mosul to warn citizens its intent to take back the city from the militants, and to stay away from ISIS positions.
Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces moved east of Mosul along the front line as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard Monday morning. Children were being told that the blasts were thunder.
The move came shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television.
“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity,” said al-Abadi.
“God willing, we shall win.”
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under ISIS rule for more than two years, and is still home to more than a million civilians according to UN estimates.
The Iraqi and Kurdish forces are receiving support from the U-S on the ground and in the air in what is expected to be a long battle to reclaim the city.
There are also concerns the militants may try to use civilians trapped in the city as human shields.