Iraqis find bomb factory, tunnels on road to Mosul

KHAZER, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces explored a network of tunnels and uncovered a bomb-making facility Thursday in a village near Mosul that recently was retaken from the Islamic State group, offering a glimpse of the challenge they will face as they move closer to the city.

Ten days into the offensive, the special forces still are at least 4 miles east of the city and have faced stiff resistance, with IS firing mortars and machine guns, and sending armored suicide truck bombs trundling across the arid plains.

Once inside the small, sparsely populated villages that ring Mosul, Iraqi forces must contend with explosive booby-traps and hidden snipers. The fortifications are expected to grow more lethally daunting once they enter Iraq’s second-largest city.

The extremists captured Mosul in a matter of days in 2014, and have had more than two years to build up its defenses and brutally root out any internal opposition. The operation to retake the northern city is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraqi forces approaching Mosul from the south, meanwhile, are 20 miles  from the city, and the special forces to the east said they will not push ahead until the other forces are able to tighten the noose.

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabori said forces south of Mosul retook Staff al-Tut in the Tigris River valley Wednesday, and said local tribal and militia forces have been deployed to protect the gains while his troops regroup for their next advance.

Special forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil nevertheless insisted things were on track.

“The operation has not been stopped and is proceeding as planned,” he said.

During cleanup operations in the area of Tob Zawa, his men found a tire shop that had been converted into a factory for making roadside bombs and attaching armor to vehicles.

They also found a tunnel equipped with fans and lights that ran from beneath a mosque out to a road. Iraqi forces have found extensive tunneling networks in areas retaken from IS, which the militants used to elude U.S.-led coalition warplanes.

Many fear IS may resort to more brutal tactics as the forces converge on the city, which is still home to more than a million people.