April 27, 2016 / 4:45 PM / 3 years ago

Iraqi army makes modest advance south of Mosul

A burned Humvee and artillery are seen at the peshmerga base in Makhmour, after it was freed from control of Islamic State, south of Mosul, April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

MAKHMOUR, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqis armed forces backed by U.S.-led coalition air power captured a village in Nineveh province from Islamic State on Wednesday, the first advance on the northern front since the offensive was paused three weeks ago.

Mahana, sitting south of a main east-west road, became just the fourth village seized by the army in the Makhmour area, which is set to be a staging ground for a future assault on Mosul, about 60 km (40 miles) further north.

The advance brings Iraqi forces slightly closer to the oil town of Qayyara on the western banks of the Tigris River, control over which would help to isolate Mosul, the largest city held by the militants, from territory they control further south and east.

“At 0600 (0300 GMT), segments of the 15th division 72nd Brigade proceeded to clear Mahana village,” a statement from the Nineveh operations command said.

The army suffered no casualties from the advance, which was backed by artillery and air strikes, it added.

The offensive’s faltering start has cast renewed doubt on the capabilities of the Iraqi army, which partially collapsed when Islamic State seized around a third of the country in 2014.

It was not immediately clear what had enabled the forces to push further west, but the commander in charge of the offensive told Reuters the army was limited from advancing further on Wednesday by the lack of federal police units and additional tribal forces to hold territory after it is taken.

Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether that is possible.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Isabel Coles; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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