Once the initial phase is over, the Iraqi forces are expected to besiege Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that fell to Daesh in 2014. The forces will then try to open a safe passage for over a million civilians still believed to be there, and breach the city to take on Daesh in street battles.
Around 50,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are taking part in the offensive that was launched on October 17 to drive Daesh out of Mosul.
Forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) on Monday recaptured Bazwaya, one of two Daesh-held villages that had been standing between Iraqi forces and the eastern edges of Mosul, said Lieutenant Colonel Muntadhar Salem.
"Tonight, if everything is secured, we will be 700 metres (yards) from Mosul," Salem said.
CTS forces also entered the second village, Gogjali, Staff Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi, a senior CTS commander, told AFP by telephone.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, speaking at the Qayyara military airbase south of Mosul, said the Iraqi forces were trying to close off all escape routes for the several thousand Daesh fighters inside Mosul.
"God willing, we will chop off the snake's head," Abadi, wearing military fatigues, told state television. "They have no escape, they either die or surrender."
Many areas retaken
In the dozens of villages and towns scattered over territory retaken from Daesh over the past two weeks, civilians were very slowly returning to a life free from the so called "caliphate" that the group declared in Mosul in 2014.
Qaraqosh, which was previously Iraq's largest Christian town, saw its first mass in more than two years on Sunday.
"After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception," Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, said, mentioning that Daesh sought to destroy it.
Most retaken areas were far from being habitable, however, with months of mine clearing and reconstruction needed before the bulk of the original population can return.
Daesh has been losing ground steadily in Iraq since 2015, and the outcome of the Mosul battle is in little doubt, but commanders have warned it could last months.
The United Nations says up to a million people could be displaced in the coming weeks.
— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) October 31, 2016
More than 17,500 people have already fled their homes since the operation began.
Turkey calls for operation in Raqqa after Mosul
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that Ankara wanted an operation to start in Daesh's self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, Syria, after the completion of operations in Mosul and Operation Euphrates Shield against Daesh in northern Syria.
"Turkey's stance on the Raqqa operation is clear. It would be better both militarily and strategically to conduct this operation after the Mosul operation and Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation are completed," Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara on Monday.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter last week said Washington expected the Mosul operation to overlap with the Raqqa offensive.