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Iraqi PM: Mosul offensive going faster than expected

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said today that the offensive against Daesh in Mosul was progressing more quickly than originally planned.

"The forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we thought and more quickly than we had programmed in our campaign plan," Al-Abadi told senior officials in Paris via a video conference call.

French President Francois Hollande, who was opening a meeting in Paris to discuss the future of Mosul, said that there was evidence that Daesh fighters were already fleeing to its Syrian bastion of Raqqa, and that everything needed to be done to stop them regrouping there.

The discussions come as the Iraqi government announced on Monday the start of the offensive to recapture its northern capital of Mosul from Daesh. Shia and Sunni groups are taking part in the battle along with Kurdish Peshmerga forces with the air and ground support of the US-led coalition.

An Iraqi army elite unit and Kurdish fighters today launched a fresh offensive to dislodge Daesh militants from villages around Mosul, their last major city stronghold in Iraq.

Howitzer and mortar fire started at 6.00am (03.00 GMT), hitting a group of villages held by Desg around 20 kilometres north and east of Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead, Reuters reporters on the scene said.

Four days into the assault, US-backed government and Kurdish forces are steadily recovering outlying territory before the big push into the city itself, expected to be the biggest battle in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

On the northern front, Kurdish Peshmerga shot down with machine guns an unmanned drone aircraft that came from Daesh's lines in the village of Nawaran.

It was not clear if the drone, one to two metres wide, was carrying explosives or just on reconnaissance.

"There have been times when they dropped explosives," said Halgurd Hasan, one of the Kurdish fighters deployed in a position overlooking the plain north of Mosul.

A cloud of black smoke wreathed some frontline villages, probably caused by oil fires, a tactic Daesh use to escape air surveillance.

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