PARIS: Iraqi forces are “advancing faster than expected” in a major offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State jihadists, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday.
“We are advancing faster than we had expected and planned,” Abadi said, speaking on a videoconference link to an international meeting co-hosted by France and Iraq on the future of Mosul following the start of the offensive this week.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had warned Tuesday that the battle to retake Iraq’s second-biggest city could take “months”.
French President Francois Hollande told Thursday’s meeting that the jihadists were already fleeing to Raqa, their stronghold in neighbouring Syria.
“We can’t afford mistakes in the pursuit of the terrorists who are already leaving Mosul for Raqa,” Hollande said, adding: “We cannot allow those who were in Mosul to evaporate.”
The long-awaited offensive on Mosul was launched on Monday, with some 30,000 troops involved in Iraq’s largest military operation since the pullout of US troops in 2011.
Representatives from around 20 countries including the United States, Turkey, Gulf states and EU member states are attending the Paris meeting co-chaired by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Thursday’s talks come ahead of a meeting in Paris next Tuesday of the coalition’s defence ministers to assess progress in the Mosul offensive.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter will be among 13 ministers at the talks, an aide to Le Drian said.