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As Iraqis close in on Mosul, the fight becomes more complicated

Troops nearing Mosul
Troops nearing Mosul 01:58

QAYYARAH, Iraq -- Thousands of civilians are escaping from ISIS as the extremists retreat from their villages surrounding Mosul.

The offensive has killed hundreds of ISIS fighters, according to the U.S. coalition, with over 300 square miles clawed back by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to the east and south.

But they still haven’t entered Mosul itself.

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CBS News

At the American base south of Mosul, Maj. Chris Parker said that protecting the city’s 1 million civilians will make the fight more difficult.

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Maj. Chris Parker CBS News

“Airstrikes do become more complicated when you move into a major metropolitan area. And the fighting will be more complicated,” Parker said.

“This is a tough fight. They’ve been dug into Mosul for two years now and had time to prepare.”

There are 50,000 Iraqi ground forces, compared to the 5,000 ISIS fighters thought to be in Mosul.

But the extremists have one terrifying weapon, the suicide car bomb, a vehicle laden with explosives. ISIS has used dozens of them in the battle. CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her crew have witnessed the panic they cause on the front line.

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The plume of smoke in the distance shows where Kurdish fighters blew up a car filled with explosives CBS News

“They want to die. I guess the only real comparison is Kamikaze pilots in the Second World War,” Williams said to Parker.

“When you’re dealing with that mentality, it’s a very dangerous enemy, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

This is the biggest test of Iraqi troops since the invasion of 2003. In 2014, when ISIS first blitzed across northern Iraq, some members of this country’s military ran away.

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