MOSUL, Iraq (Dispatches) -- Iraqi forces have retaken at least 80% of east Mosul from Daesh terrorists, the spokesman of the special forces spearheading the campaign said Wednesday.
"I think you can say that we have retaken 80 to 85 percent" of the eastern side of Mosul, Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP in the city.
Tens of thousands of troops launched a huge offensive to retake Mosul, Daesh’s last major bastion in Iraq, and areas around it on Oct. 17.
The initial phase of the offensive saw a variety of forces retake significant swathes of land in little time but the going has been tough inside the city itself.
After a lull in operations, the CTS and other forces stepped up their coordination and launched a fresh push just before the New Year.
Over the past two weeks, Iraqi forces have overrun several districts and reached the Tigris River that runs through the heart of the city for the first time.
Combined with the destruction of all bridges over the river, that has made it difficult for Daesh terrorists in east Mosul to resupply or escape to the west bank, which they still fully control.
The western side of Mosul, which is home to the old city and some of the Takfiri group’s traditional strongholds, was always tipped as likely to offer the most resistance.
On Tuesday, a top Iraqi commander told The Associated Press that the operation to retake Mosul from Daesh could be complete in three months or less.
"It's possible" that Mosul will be liberated in that time frame, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said in an interview. However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight.
"There are many variables," he said, describing the combat as "guerrilla warfare."
The massive offensive involving some 30,000 Iraqi forces was launched in October and Iraqi leaders originally pledged the city would be retaken before 2017. However as the fight enters its fourth month, only about a third of the city is under government control.
Shaghati said the counterattacks by Daesh — specifically car bombings — have slowed. He estimated his forces are seeing less than half the number of Daesh car bomb attacks on the front than they were faced with when the operation first began.
Shaghati, the top commander of Iraq's special forces and the commander of Iraq's Joint Military Operation said that while many forces are participating in the Mosul fight, Iraq's special forces are the only troops with the skills to fight Daesh.
"The forces who have the skills to fight guerrilla warfare is only the CTS," he said using an alternative acronym for Iraq's special forces who are also called the counter-terrorism forces. "They have flexibility and can act quickly," he said.
Although Shaghati said he believes that the beginning of the Mosul operation marked the end of Daesh in Iraq, the country will likely struggle with terrorist threats long after the Takfiri group is defeated in Mosul.