ISIL has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters defending the city of Mosul against Iraqi forces, the head of Iraq’s special forces, Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region east of Mosul, he said the figure had come from intelligence information.
It came as the extremists deployed suicide car bombs and fired mortar rounds to slow down the advance of Iraqi troops outside a key town near the northern city, according to an Iraqi army officer.
The officer from the 9th Division said his troops were now around 1 kilometre away from Qaraqosh, a historically Christian town also known as Hamdaniyah.
Since Tuesday, ISIL has sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, the officer said, adding that Iraqi troops had suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds.
Iraq launched a massive operation on Monday to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city and ISIL’s last major stronghold in the country.
The operation is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 US-led invasion. Some 25,000 troops, including Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish peshmerga forces and state-sanctioned Shiite militias are approaching the city from different directions.