ISIS Using Tens of Thousands as 'Human Shields' as Iraqi-Led Forces Advance on Mosul

Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces are just 5 miles from Mosul, waiting to strike.

Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces that are spearheading the large-scale operation to free Mosul from ISIS have reached Tub Zawa, a populated village just five miles from Mosul.

The U.S. military said Friday that Iraqi forces have liberated 40 villages from ISIS since the operation began a week ago to drive out the militants from Mosul. However, most of the villages have been sparsely populated farming communities on the outskirts of Iraq’s second largest city.

Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabori said forces south of Mosul on Wednesday pushed ISIS fighters out of the town of Staff al-Tut in the Tigris River valley and were just 20 miles from the besieged city. And on Thursday, Iraqi forces retaking villages freed more than 1,000 civilians who had been detained by ISIS.

While clearing out territory liberated from ISIS, Iraqi special forces have discovered extensive tunneling networks that ISIS militants apparently used to dodge U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. The extremist group also rigged many homes and buildings with explosives before retreating from these areas, according to Iraqi commanders.

As the fighting intensifies, many civilians are fleeing the areas under siege. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has 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,” UNICEF regional emergency adviser Bastien Vigneau said last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.