Iraqi forces captured Mosul airport on Thursday hours after they launched a major offensive against the Islamic State, which controls the western half of the city, state television reported.
“The Rapid Response Forces and federal police are fully in control of the airport of Mosul,” state television said in a flash on its screen.
Earlier, state television said US-backed Iraqi forces closing stormed the airport and a nearby military base.
Counter-terrorism service (CTS) troops and the elite interior ministry unit known as Rapid Response descended on the airport early on Thursday and the nearby Ghozlani military complex, CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told state TV.
“Our forces started a major operation early this morning to storm the airport of Mosul and the Ghozlani base to dislodge Daesh (Islamic State) terrorists. We can confirm that the Mosul airport militarily has fallen and it’s a matter of short time to fully control it,” Numan said.
After ousting the militant group from eastern Mosul last month, Iraqi forces have sought to capture the airport and use it as a launchpad for an onslaught into the west of Iraq’s second-largest city.
The airport and military complex, which includes barracks and training grounds and sprawls across an area close to the Baghdad-Mosul highway was captured by Islamic State fighters when they overran Mosul in June 2014.
Loss of Mosul could spell the end of the Iraqi side of IS’s self-styled caliphate, which it declared from the city after sweeping through vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
The campaign involves a 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shi’ite militias.
Forces have made rapid advances since the start of the year, aided by new tactics and improved coordination, military officials say.