Iraq launches battle for Tal Afar, IS bastion near Mosul
23 August, 2017, 00:38 | Author: Ora Austin
Iraqi forces have reached the first urban areas of the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar, on the third day of a multi-pronged operation, said a military commander.
As the fighting continues, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who made an unannounced visit to Iraq, declared that "ISIS is on the run", following his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad.
On Sunday, Iraqi troops began a large-scale military operation, with the support of the US-led coalition, to retakeTal Afar from the Islamic State (IS), which took over the town mid-2014.
"I say to Daesh (IS), either you surrender or die", Abadi said.
Tal Afar, about 150 km (93 miles) east of the Syrian border, is in one of the last pockets of IS-held territory in Iraq.
Although thousands of people managed to flee Tal Afar in the recent weeks, the United NationsInternational Organization for Migration estimates that between 10,000 to 40,000 people are still in the city and surrounding villages, often prevented from leaving by jihadists who use them as human shields. "They are arriving exhausted and dehydrated", Grande said in a statement.
Since April this year, more than 30,000 people fled Tal Afar district, many living in camps sheltering other displaced families mainly from Mosul, some 65 kilometres south-west.
"Following their historic victory in Mosul, the ISF have proven themselves a capable, formidable, and increasingly professional force, and they are well prepared to deliver another defeat to ISIS in Tal Afar", the coalition said.
Its humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said on Sunday that conditions were "very tough" inside Tal Afar.
The city was cut off from both during the nine-month Mosul offensive by troops and allied militiamen from the Shia-dominated paramilitary Popular Mobilisation (Hashd al-Shaabi) force.
With thousands more expected to flee toward Hamam al-Alil in the coming weeks, it will become increasingly hard for humanitarian actors to provide the necessary assistance to those fleeing the violence in Tal Afar.
"ISIS's days are certainly numbered, but it's not over yet and it's not going to be over anytime soon", he said.
Iraq's military launched an offensive on August 19 to retake one of the last pockets of territory in Iraq held by Islamic State (ISIS).
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