Iraqi forces move to recapture Tal Afar from IS militants

Iraqi Federal Police members hold an Islamic State flag which they pulled down during fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Five weeks after securing victory in Mosul, Iraqi forces have moved into positions around the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the U.S.-backed campaign to defeat Islamic State militants, Iraqi military commanders say.

A longtime stronghold of hardline Sunni insurgents, Tal Afar, 50 miles (80 km) west of Mosul, was cut off from the rest of the Islamic State-held territory in June.

The city is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shi’ite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

About 2,000 battle-hardened militants remain in the city, according to U.S. and Iraqi military commanders. They are expected to put up a tough fight, even though intelligence from inside the city indicates they have been exhausted by months of combat, aerial bombardments, and by the lack of fresh supplies.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate all but collapsed last month when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul after a brutal nine-month campaign. But parts of Iraq and Syria remain under its control, including Tal Afar, a city with a pre-war population of about 200,000.

Waves of civilians have fled the city and surrounding villages under cover of darkness for weeks now, although several thousand are estimated to remain, threatened with death by the militants who have held a tight grip there since 2014.

Thousands of troops stand ready at the frontline, awaiting orders from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to start the offensive, Iraqi army Major-General Uthman al-Ghanimi said this week.

(Source: Reuters)

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