KHAZER (TIP): Iraqi special forces joined the Mosul offensive on Oct 20 with a pre-dawn advance on a nearby town held by the Islamic State group, encountering heavy fire.

Major general Maan al-Saadi said the elite Counterterrorism Forces advanced on the town of Bartalla with the aid of US-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery on the fourth day of a massive operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.

The special forces are expected to lead the way into Mosul, where they will face fierce resistance in an urban landscape where IS militants are preparing for a climactic battle.

The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 US-led invasion. It is expected to take weeks, if not months.