Iraq's armed forces started an offensive against Islamic State on Thursday in the region around Mosul with air cover from the U.S.-led coalition, pushing the militants out of several villages, according to a military statement read on state TV.
The offensive is the first phase of an operation that the Iraqi government aims to conclude this year with the capture of Mosul, the largest city in the north of the country.
"The first phase of the Fatah (Conquest) Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh, raising the Iraqi flag in several villages," said the military statement.
Mosul, home to around 2 million people before it fell to Islamic State during a lightning offensive in 2014, is by far the biggest city ruled by the jihadist group in either Iraq or Syria. An Iraqi offensive to recapture it, backed by air strikes and advisers from a U.S.-led coalition, would be the biggest counterattack ever mounted against the group.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint operations command, told state TV that both Iraqi and coalition air forces had had a significant role in the offensive.