Iraqi forces closed to within 10 miles of Mosul on Monday against increasingly heavy resistance on day seven of the offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State.
"One week into Mosul operation, all objectives met thus far, and more coalition airstrikes than any other 7-day period of war," said a Tweet from Brett McGurk, the State Department special envoy for Iraq and Syria.
McGurk warned of a long fight ahead but met in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish Regional Government, with the governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, on an administrative plan for Mosul once the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is defeated.
Reports from the field and from the Pentagon said that 70 to 80 villages had been liberated and 800 square kilometers of territory had been taken back since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the offensive Oct. 17.
The Iraqi army's press office said that more than 770 ISIS fighters have been killed since Oct. 17, while ISIS outlets said that hundreds of Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had been killed in the opening stages of the offensive, Reuters reported.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, noted that the village of Bartella east of Mosul had been retaken over the weekend and was in the process of being cleared, putting the attacking forces within 10 miles of the Mosul city limits.
The town of Bashiqa, about 10 miles north of Mosul, also was retaken over the weekend and was being cleared, Davis said, but the advancing forces were facing heavy resistance as they moved closer to the city.
Several military officials, who spoke to Pentagon reporters on grounds of anonymity, suggested that the ISIS fighters are failing back on the city in relatively good order while seeking to disrupt and divert the offensive.
ISIS is using suicide bombers and Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices to slow the advance and cover the retrograde operation back to the city, the officials said.
ISIS fighters in other areas launched attacks in Kirkuk, to the east of Mosul; in Rutbah in Anbar province; and in Sinjar, west of Mosul, as a diversionary tactic, the officials said.
The estimated 3,000 to 5,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul also appeared to be picking up reinforcements from Tal Afar, another city they control west of Mosul, the officials said.
The officials characterized the progress of the Mosul campaign thus far as slow and deliberate against ISIS defenders whose command and control systems are constantly being degraded by U.S. and coalition airstrikes.
On Sunday, U.S. and coalition warplanes carried out six airstrikes, each against multiple targets, near Mosul, according to a statement from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
The strikes engaged four ISIS tactical units, two rocket systems, two anti-aircraft artillery systems and two staging areas; destroyed 19 fighting positions, 17 vehicles, 10 heavy machine guns, nine mortar systems, eight command and control nodes, six repeater towers and four tunnels; and damaged four fighting positions, two vehicles, a mortar system and a tunnel, the task force said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.