A senior Iraqi general called on ISIL fighters to surrender as coalition forces march towards Mosul - the last major stronghold of the armed group in the country.
Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati told reporters at a military base on Wednesday that up to 6,000 ISIL combatants were inside Iraq's second largest city. He did not say how many were foreigners.
As fighting to recapture Mosul entered its third day, Iraqi forces advanced on the city as US-led coalition air strikes pounded the nearby town of Hamdaniya.
However, explosives and booby traps laid down by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant slowed down the offensive. The Iraqi army said it destroyed five cars driven by ISIL suicide bombers during the advance.
The Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul began on the first day with the taking of nine villages, mostly by Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
"The Iraqi army, not the Peshmerga, are trying to advance into [Hamdaniya]. They tried to storm the area yesterday, but were forced to retreat," said Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Khazir near the frontline.
"If [the Iraqi forces] take over Hamdaniya, they will be at the gates of Mosul itself."
OPINION: Mosul will fall again, but at great cost
An Iraqi officer from the 9th Division told The Associated Press news agency his troops were now a kilometre away from Hamdaniya, a historically Christian town to the east of Mosul.
Before ISIL's takeover in 2014, Hamdaniya's population stood at 50,000. Although most civilians fled at the time, a few thousand people are believed to reside in the town.
In Mosul, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped with dwindling supplies on Wednesday, many sheltering in basements.
"We couldn't sleep last night because of the air strikes. The explosions were huge but I'm not sure what the targets were," said Abu Saif, a 47-year-old resident contacted by AFP news agency. "Many families are starting to run out of some basic food goods, there is no commercial activity in Mosul - the city is cut off from the world."
The United Nations said it fears up to a million people could be forced from their homes by fighting to retake Mosul.
|It is estimated that nearly 6,000 ISIL fighters remain in and around Mosul [Reuters]
The Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a coalition of mostly Iranian-trained militias, said it would back Iraqi government forces advancing towards Tal Afar, about 55km west of Mosul.
Taking Tal Afar would effectively cut off the escape route for fighters wanting to head into neighbouring Syria, but it could also hamper the escape of civilians.
ISIL forces are believed to be vastly outnumbered with an estimated 30,000 Iraqi army troops, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Shia militias, and Sunni tribal forces moving in.
Iraqi forces have significant ground to cover before reaching the boundaries of the city, which ISIL is defending with berms, bombs, and burning oil trenches.
Iraqi forces advance towards Mosul amid ISIL resistance
While most of the coalition's support has come in the shape of air strikes and training, American, British and French special forces are also on the ground to advise local troops.
Some reports suggested Iraqi forces may allow fleeing ISIL fighters an exit to the west in a bid to minimise human and material losses from fighting inside the city.
But Russia's General Valery Gerasimov said Moscow was concerned about "possible attempts by fighters to break out of Mosul" and "freely leave the city in the direction of Syria".
Gerasimov said it was "necessary not to drive terrorists from one country to the other - but to destroy them on the spot".
Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies