TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Iraqi security forces drove Daesh terrorists from the center of a town just south of the Takfiri militants' main stronghold of Mosul on Saturday and reached within a few kilometers of an airport on the edge of the city, a senior commander said.

Lieutenant-General Raed Shakir Jawdat said security forces were in control of the center of Hammam al-Alil, about 15 km (10 miles) south of Mosul, Reuters reported.

The advance on the southern front comes days after Iraqi special forces fought their way into the eastern side of Mosul, taking control of six neighborhoods according to Iraqi officials and restoring a foothold in the city for the first time since the army retreated ignominiously two years ago.

Another unit advanced further north up the western bank of the Tigris river on Saturday, Jawdat added. "Our elite forces have reached an area just 4 km (2 1/2 miles) from Mosul airport," he told Al-Hurra television channel.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking on a visit to the eastern front, said he brought "a message to the residents inside Mosul who are hostages in the hands of Daesh- we will liberate you soon".

Abadi said progress in the nearly three-week-old campaign, and the advance into Mosul itself, had been faster than expected. But in the face of fierce resistance, which has included suicide car bombings, sniper fire and roadside bombs, he suggested that progress may be intermittent.

"Our heroic forces will not retreat and will not be broken. Maybe in the face of terrorist acts, criminal acts, there will be some delay," he said.

General Jawdat said his forces had destroyed 17 bomb-laden cars which had targeted them on their advance north.

The assault on Hammam al-Alil, about 15 km (10 miles) south of Mosul, targeted a force of at least 70 ISIL terrorists there, commander of the Mosul operations Major-General Najm al-Jabouri said.

Jabouri said the assault began around 10 a.m. (0700 GMT) and some militants had tried to escape across the river, although others put up heavy resistance and the troops had thwarted three attempted suicide car bombings.

"(The battle) is very important – it's the last town for us before Mosul," Jabouri told reporters. Iraqi helicopters were supporting the army, he said.

He said the terrorists were using hundreds of people as human shields, although it was not clear how many civilians were left in the town. Before Daesh swept in more than two years ago, Hammam al-Alil and outlying villages had a population of 65,000.

Jabouri said a man he described as a senior Daesh figure, Ammar Salih Ahmed Abu Bakr, was killed by federal police – who are fighting with the army in Hammam al-Alil – as he tried to escape by car.

Many of the remaining militants were non-Iraqis, he said. "There are at least 70 Daesh fighters in the town. The majority are foreign fighters, so they don't know where to go. They are just moving from place to place."

Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga fighters started a massive offensive against the Takfiri group on Oct. 17.

The recapture of Mosul would mark the Takfiri militants’ effective defeat in the Iraqi half of the territory they had seized.