Mosul: Intense battles with IS on road to Iraqi city
The Iraqi army is advancing on Mosul slowly. Sometimes very slowly.
It is made difficult by so-called Islamic State (IS), who are launching harrying attacks along the way.
We witnessed it in Bashmana, one of the 70 villages the Iraqi army still has to clear even before they reach the outskirts of Mosul.
We joined General Abbas in his convoy of five Humvees as they advanced slowly towards Bashmana. Plumes of smoke were already rising from the small village.
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But the steady move forward became a rapid U-turn. General Abbas started shouting out orders on his radio as his Humvees dramatically picked up speed. He was looking anxiously out of the side window.
We were being chased by three unidentified vehicles – suicide truck bombs.
Two of them exploded behind us. The third driver fell out of his vehicle before he had a chance to detonate the deadly load of explosives. An Iraqi army Abrams tank did the job for him from the safety of our new position a few hundred metres away from where we had started.
It was the beginning of an unrelenting battle that lasted most of the afternoon.
Mortar rounds were soon being fired from what seemed like every direction. The Abrams tank was called on again and again to hit a group of IS fighters in the distance.
A Humvee fitted with rockets spotted another group, but lost sight of them before they could fire. It was hard to see the enemy with the naked eye. They were like ghosts.
There was rarely a moment when one of the five Humvees we were travelling in wasn’t firing its machine-gun at something in the distance.
We had barely moved a few kilometres in the space of several hours.
As the convoy circled Bashmana, it aimed for higher ground. But once again the sound of gunfire erupted. Iraqi troops on the ground hit the floor.
Our Humvee convoy moved cautiously to the brow of the hill, soon joined by the Abrams tank. The cacophony of multiple machine guns began again, followed by the same manoeuvre we had made earlier in the day – the tactical withdrawal.
This time though as the driver sped down the hill at speed, the Humvee hit a ditch that brought us to a dramatic halt. Now static and a sitting target, there was a rush for the doors and a desperate run towards cover.
General Abbas made his escape, this time on foot.