MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on Wednesday "disabled" the fourth bridge on the Tigris River in Mosul, leaving the northern Iraqi city with a single functioning bridge, according to the Iraqi military and the Islamic State's media arm.
The Aamaq news agency gave no details on the airstrike, the second to target a Mosul bridge this week and the fourth since shortly before the Oct. 17 start of the Iraqi government's campaign to retake the city from the extremist group.
A top Iraqi commander in Mosul said the airstrike took place before dawn, but had no other details.
Mosul had five bridges over the Tigris until shortly before the start of the campaign to retake the city from IS. Targeting the bridges appears designed to disrupt IS supply lines in Mosul, which is sliced in half by the river.
Most of the fighting in Mosul is taking place in the eastern part of the city — east of the Tigris — where Iraqi special forces are slowly moving toward the city center in the face of stiff IS resistance.
The destruction of the bridges means that the Iraqi military and its allies — the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Sunni tribesmen — would have to use military pontoon bridges to cross the river.
Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the Iraqi special forces told The Associated Press that his men were slowly pushing back IS fighters in the densely populated Mosul neighborhood of Zohour. He said their progress was hampered by IS suicide car bombs, several of which were targeted by coalition aircraft before they reached their intended targets.
Mortars, artillery and automatic fire were used in the fighting, which prompted dozens of families to flee their homes to the safety of centers set up for displaced civilians away from front-line neighborhoods, according to an AP team in Mosul. Unmanned aircraft flew overhead.
The families arrived to safety carrying plastic bags filled with personal belongings. They had walked from neighborhoods closer to the center of the city. One family arrived on a donkey-drawn cart.
Across the street from where the displaced civilians were being loaded onto trucks, a wounded soldier was brought for treatment. Later, the body of a dead soldier arrived in a black Humvee. It was wrapped in a blanket bearing the image of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered saints to Shiite Muslims.
The progress of the Mosul campaign has generally been slow as the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition avoid using overwhelming power against the Islamic State group because of the presence inside the city of some 1 million civilians.
On Tuesday, a U.N. spokesman said the number of displaced people fleeing the military operation in Mosul has risen to over 68,000.
Stephane Dujarric said 8,300 Iraqis had been displaced from the city and outlying districts over the past four days, citing figures from the U.N.-linked International Organization for Migration.
The majority of the displaced — 59,200 — came from the districts surrounding Mosul and the rest from inside the city, he said.