ISIS Loses Tal Afar to Iraqi Forces
Coalition Ousts Islamic State from Its Last Iraqi Stronghold
Iraqi security forces reached the center of Tal Afar and liberated another 60 square kilometers in and around the former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold, according to the US Department of Defense in Washington, August 28.
The city is not completely liberated yet, US Army Col. Robert Manning said during a press availability in the Pentagon.
Iraqi security forces have attacked the terror group in the city to the west of Mosul, with increasing confidence, DoD officials said. The strategy of training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces is paying off with increased combat capabilities.
EIght Days of Fighting
After just eight days of fighting, all 29 neighborhoods in Tal Afar city had been taken back from the militant group, the Iraqi military said in a statement on Sunday, August 27, according to VOA.
Fighting was still ongoing in al-‘Ayadiya, a small area 11 kilometers northwest of the city, where militants who fled the district’s city center were hiding out, Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said.
Iraqi forces were waiting to retake the area before declaring complete victory in the offensive, he said.
Tal Afar was the latest objective in the U.S.-backed war on the jihadist group following the recapture in July of Mosul, where it declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The offensive on Tal Afar, which lies on the supply route between Syria and the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, started on August 20. Up to 2,000 militants were believed to be defending the city against around 50,000 attackers, according to Iraqi and western military sources.
Such a quick collapse of Islamic State in the city, which has been a breeding ground for jihadist groups, would confirm Iraqi military reports that the militants lack command and control structures west of Mosul.
Residents who fled Tal Afar days before the start of the offensive told Reuters that the militants looked “exhausted” and “depleted.”
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have fled in the weeks before the battle started. Remaining civilians were threatened with death by the militants, according to aid organizations and residents who managed to leave.
Tal Afar has experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has produced some of Islamic State’s most senior commanders.
Iraqi Security Forces’ Progress in Tal Afar “Remarkable”
Coalition forces have also contributed by providing intelligence information and precision air and ground fires, Col. Manning said. “The Iraqi security forces have made remarkable progress in Tal Afar, but the fight against ISIS continues while the city center and key infrastructure come under ISF control,” he said.
Iraqi forces still face dangerous work, Manning said, as they conduct “back clearance” operations after their advance. ISF service members, he added, are conducting operations to identify ISIS fighters that remain in hiding and clearing the city of improvised explosive devices.
“Additionally, the ISF will conduct clearance operations throughout northern Nineveh province around Tal Afar to eliminate any remaining ISIS holdouts,” Manning said.
Manning added, “Coalition support to ISF remains as it has been throughout the campaign. We are working by, with and through our Iraqi partners to enable their defeat of ISIS.”
The defeat-ISIS actions are Iraqi led and the forces are being deliberate in clearing the region to lessen the chances of civilian casualties, he said.
Image: Iraqi Security Forces, Battle of Tal Afar against Islamic State, 2017 (VOA video screenshot).