US President Barack Obama (R) and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi conduct a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, October 18, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
US President Barack Obama warned of a “difficult fight” ahead as Iraqi military forces move to liberate the city of Mosul, but expressed confidence that Daesh terrorists will be defeated.
"The start of Iraqi operations to liberate Mosul is another major step forward," Obama said Tuesday at a White House news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
"I am confident that ISIL will be defeated in Mosul and that will be another step toward their ultimate destruction," he added.
Obama predicted that there would be “advances” and “setbacks” as the military campaign goes forward.
Humanitarian crisis 
Equally important, the president said, is preparing for any humanitarian crisis that could happen as large numbers of civilians begin to flee the violence.
“Perhaps one million civilians are still living there,” he said. “In addition to rooting out ISIL, our focus is on the safety and humanitarian aid for civilians escaping the fight. That will be a top priority for both our governments.”
"We have put together plans and infrastructure for dealing with a potential humanitarian crisis that are as extensive as the military plans," Obama said.
US military forces are on the ground in northern Iraq, supporting local forces in a range of capabilities, including “air support, artillery, intelligence, advisers and forward air controllers.”
An Iraqi troop flashes the sign for victory on October 18, 2016 in the Shaqouli village, about 35 kms east of Mosul. (Photo by AFP)
There are about 5,000 American troops in Iraq and half of those could be involved in the operation which, according to US and Iraqi officials, could take weeks or even months.
Approximately 100 to 200 US Special Operations forces are already advising local units in Mosul, and they have the authority to go further into the field, according to CNN.
A few dozen are forward air controllers, who gather intelligence and call in the locations of Daesh targets for airstrikes.
"Americans are in harm's way as part of this fight," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Monday. "It's fair to say there are Americans on the outskirts of the city."
The presence of US military personnel on the ground is the latest departure from Obama’s promise against having “boots on the ground” in Iraq.
In addition, US artillery units are striking targets from sites both north and south of the city.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to the Daesh terrorist group in June 2014 and has served as its de facto capital in Iraq ever since.
Civilians being used as human shields
About 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and concerns are growing that they could get caught up in the crossfire and be used by Daesh as human shields.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis confirmed Tuesday that Daesh terrorists were already using civilians as human shields in Mosul.
"This has been going on for several weeks where we've seen civilians being forcibly detained and their movements being prevented where they can't get out of Mosul. They are being held there against their will," he told reporters.
Davis said “we've seen very good progress” in the early stages of the campaign, but added that it was “an ugly fight.” 
A woman walks with children at a refugee camp in the northeastern town of al-Hol in Syria housing Iraqi families who fled fighting in the Mosul area, October 17, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Residents of Mosul reached by telephone said more than 100 families had started moving from southern and eastern suburbs to more central parts of the city in order to avoid the fighting, Reuters reported.
They said Daesh militants were preventing people from fleeing Mosul.
"It's quite clear Daesh has started to use civilians as human shields by allowing families to stay in buildings likely to be targeted by airstrikes," said Abu Mahir, who lives near the city's university.