Iraqi forces enter first spots in Tal Afar, west Mosul
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Iraq on Tuesday just days after the start of an offensive to oust Islamic State from the city of Tal Afar, with talks focused on backing Iraqi efforts to stabilize areas recaptured from the militant group.
Prior to arriving, Mattis said the fight against Islamic State was far from over despite recent successes by Western-backed Iraqi government forces. The battle for Tal Afar would be difficult, U.S. officials said.
Iraqi security forces opened the offensive to take back Tal Afar on Sunday, their latest objective in the war following the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month campaign that left much of the city in ruins.
Lying 80 km (50 miles) west of Mosul in Iraq’s far north, Tal Afar is a long-time stronghold of the hardline Sunni Muslim insurgents,
“ISIS’ days are certainly numbered, but it is not over yet and it is not going to be over anytime soon,” Mattis told reporters in Amman.
Mattis said that after retaking Tal Afar, Iraqi forces would move against the western Euphrates River valley.
Brigadier General Andrew Croft, responsible for coalition air operations over Iraq, said that between 10,000 and 20,000 civilians remained in Tal Afar. The plight of civilians was a big factor in the battle of Mosul as Islamic State tried to keep them areas it controlled to act as human shields against air strikes and artillery bombardments. Several thousand are believed to have been killed.
Croft said that over the past two or three months, he had seen a fracturing in Islamic State leadership.
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