New Haven, Conn., Oct 24, 2016 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The battle to free Mosul from the hands of ISIS must be accompanied by concrete efforts to support the groups that have been targeted by the extremist group, said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

“While welcoming the ongoing liberation of the Nineveh plain and Mosul, we must not forget that the genocide begun by ISIS will continue through attrition and neglect unless the United States and international community prioritizes those groups that were targeted for extermination and risk disappearing altogether,” Anderson said in an Oct. 21 statement.

On Oct. 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a ground offensive to retake Mosul, which has been under the control of the Islamic State since June 2014. In addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, U.S. troops, British and French Special Forces, and a number of Turkish soldiers are supporting the Iraqi army in the battle, which was initially expected to take between several weeks to several months to complete.

Mosul is the last major stronghold the Islamic State has in Iraq. They have been steadily retreating since the end of last year in battles against Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, as well as airstrikes from the U.S-led coalition. The United Nations has warned that ISIS is using civilians as human shields in the fight for Mosul, estimating that the militants have so far taken roughly 550 families from smaller towns close to Mosul in an effort to prevent them from leaving the area. According to CNN, some 285 men and boys have already been used by ISIS as human shields in recent days, and their bodies dumped in a mass grave.

The Knights of Columbus have been heavily involved in supporting persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The Catholic fraternal group successfully advocated for the State Department to recognize the genocide of religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. In 2014, the Knights established the Christian Refugee Relief Fund, which has raised $10.5 million to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care to persecuted Christians in the Middle East. They have also encouraged prayer for those facing persecution.

In his statement, Anderson stressed that liberating Mosul and the Nineveh plain are not enough. In addition, aid must be offered to ensure the survival of groups that ISIS had been trying to exterminate. “This must include direct financial support from our government that actually reaches endangered groups like Christians and Yazidis,” he said. “Those Iraqi citizens who belong to these groups also need to be given equal rights based on the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.”

“We must also insist that the two-tiered system of rights — resulting in the second class citizenship of Christians and other non-majority religious groups — end if we really want to ensure that such genocide never again occurs in this region,” he continued. “Celebrations over the ongoing liberation of the historically Christian towns of the Nineveh, should not obscure the fact those minority groups who lived there for generations are now displaced and in danger of disappearing.”