U.S. commander: Apaches are striking Islamic State targets

As they close in on the city, Iraqi forces have retaken several villages south and east of Mosul, for example Qaraqosh, which lies about 15 kilometres (10 miles) away and was once Iraq's largest Christian town.

The United Nations said it fears up to a million people could be forced from their homes by fighting to retake Mosul.

"God willing, we will take this town today", he said.

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi told The Associated Press that elite forces had advanced on Bartella - a Christian town due east of Mosul - with the help of USA -led coalition airstrikes and artillery.

Over the past day, ISIS sent 12 auto bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds.

Some 34,000 Iraqi security personnel, Kurdish fighters, Sunni Muslim Arab tribesmen and Shia Muslim paramilitaries have been deployed against ISIS, with backing from the US, France and others.

US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the battle to oust the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) terrorist group from Iraq's second largest city will be "tough" but ultimately successful.

There are believed to be somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul which is relatively small compared to the tens of thousands of troops now surrounding the city.

Turkish warnings about sectarian clashes in Mosul if Shiite militia are involved in the operation in the mainly Sunni region also drew Iraq's ire. The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 US-led invasion, and is expected to take weeks, if not months.

"We are very anxious about the safety of innocent civilians in Mosul city", Su'ad Jarbawi, Iraq country director for Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid agency, said in a statement.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters, did not provide specific figures.

"Daesh has bombed the new building for the Nineveh provincial council in the Faisaliyah neighbourhood in central Mosul, and they also bombed part of the old building for the Nineveh province on Dwasa Street, which is located in Mosul's city center", Kurdish official Saeed Mamuzini told Rudaw.

This area has been under control of the militants ever since the summer of 2014, when IS fighters captured Mosul and much of the north in a lightning advance.

But Davis added that the US soldiers were "always behind the forward line of troops".

A Turkish official says between 100,000 and 400,000 people could flee the fighting in Mosul and make their way toward Syria, Iraq's Kurdish-administrated region or the border with Turkey. More than 100 US forces are embedded with the Iraqis, and hundreds more are playing a supporting role in staging bases.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced to western diplomats in a video call to Paris that forces were moving "more quickly than planned" towards Mosul and he lauded the cooperation in the attack by the different forces.

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