Iraqi forces are deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS militants outside Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Iraqi forces are "ahead of schedule" in an offensive aimed at retaking Mosul and dealing a death blow to ISIS, but the battle will be difficult and protracted, the Pentagon has said.Some 30,000 federal forces are leading the offensive, backed by air and ground support from a 60-nation U.S.-led coalition, in what is expected to be a long assault on ISIS' last major Iraqi stronghold.Iraqi forces readied weapons and ammunition as columns of armored vehicles headed towards Mosul from the town of Al-Shura, some 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of the city.Iraqi forces have been closing in on Mosul in recent weeks but the battle begun Monday could be the toughest yet against ISIS.ISIS forces are vastly outnumbered, with the U.S. military estimating 3,000 to 4,500 extremists in and around Mosul.Several villages were promptly recaptured and peshmerga forces had moved to the edges of Qaraqosh and Bartalla, two Christian towns ISIS seized in August 2014, commanders said.ISIS once controlled more than a third of Iraq's territory but its self-proclaimed "state" has been shrinking steadily.
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