The Iraqi-led coalition moving toward Mosul has encountered booby traps, roadside bombs and trenches filled with oil that ISIS set ablaze to provide smoke cover for its fighters. Dramatic images from the area show thick black smoke rising from torched oil fields and billowing into the sky over Mosul and surrounding towns.
ISIS has also torched sulfur stocks at an industrial plant south of Mosul, sending plumes of toxic smoke into the air and over a base where U.S. military advisers are stationed. There have been no reports of hospitalizations so far, though some American service members have donned gas masks as a precaution. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said it has collected air samples as a precautionary measure to analyze the fumes.
Iraqi officials estimate it will take at least two to three days to contain the burning sulfur fire, according to a U.S. military official in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
By Saturday, the Iraqi army had pushed into Qaraqosh, also known as Hamdaniyah and Bakhdida, and raised its flag over the northern town some 20 miles southeast Mosul. Fewer than 200 ISIS fighters in the town, the official said. Further south, some skirmishes continued a day after ISIS fighters launched a massive attack in and around the city of Kirkuk.
U.S. Army Liet. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said even after Iraq takes back Mosul, ISIS must be routed in other areas of the country. Townsend told reporters the United States will continue to play a role in these objectives and will remain an important part for some time.
An American service member was killed by a roadside bomb northeast of Mosul on Thursday, marking the first U.S. casualty in the region since the operation began. The U.S. Defense Department has identified the fallen service member as Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason C. Finan, 34, of Anaheim, California. Finan, who belonged to an explosive-ordnance disposal unit, was serving alongside Iraqi troops as an adviser.
Elite Iraqi troops, known as counterterrorism forces, were working Saturday to clear Bartella, some 13 miles east of Mosul, a U.S. military officials said. The Iraqi counterterrorism unit is expected to lead the way into Mosul.
Although officials have said the fight to take back the strategic city could take weeks or months, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Alabadi said Thursday the operation was advancing “more quickly” than expected.
As the fighting intensifies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis” looms as up to a million civilians are expected to flee Mosul in the coming days and weeks.
“The challenges in this scenario are unprecedented. We don’t often have up to one million people potentially on the move; it’s very rare in scale and size,” said UNICEF regional emergency adviser Bastien Vigneau.
At least 200,000 people are expected to be displaced in the first two weeks of the operation to free Mosul and as many as 1.5 million civilians are estimated to remain in the city. Of the 1 million who could become displaced, approximately half are children.
According to a U.S. military official, there were at least 2,500 people in displacement camps as of Saturday.
ABC News' Lucien Bruggeman, Luis Martinez, Matt McGaryk, Alex Marquardt and Luis Martinez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.