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Islamic State has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters in Mosul: Iraqi army

Iraqi security forces advance in Qayara, south of Mosul, to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Islamic State has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters defending the city of Mosul against an offensive by Iraqi forces, the head of Iraq’s special forces Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday announced the start of an offensive on the northern city, the last major stronghold of the militants in Iraq, with the backing of a U.S.-led coalition.

“Intelligence information indicates that there are 5,000 to 6,000 Daesh fighters,” Shaghati told a news conference near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region east of Mosul, using an Arabic acronym of Islamic State.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Ahmed Rasheed. Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Hugh Lawson