Baghdad [Iraq]: Iraqi forces have recaptured virtually the entire stategically important city of Tal Afar from ISIS jihadists, the ISIS stronghold in the country’s northwest.
All 29 neighbourhoods in Tal Afar have been taken back from the jihadist group after eight days of fighting, the military said in a statement.
Tal Afar was captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, after a two-day battle and it was used as a supply route between Syria and the former ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
Backed by the American forces, several divisions of Iraqi security advanced on the city from different sides.
The commander for the operation, Lt. Gen. Abdulmanir Yarallah, said only one enclave – north-west of the city center – remained under the ISIS control. Yarallah said that counter-terrorism forces had raised the Iraqi flag in the central areas of the Citadel and al-Basateen.
“Two Iraqi military divisions are now advancing towards that final ISIS-occupied enclave, al-Aidiya, and its surrounding villages,” CNN quoted Iraqi Joint Military Command spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, as saying.
Fighting continues in al-Ayadiya, a small area 11 km north-west of the city, where militants, who fled the district’s city centre are in hiding, Rasool said.
After the Mosul was liberated, there were concerns that ISIS fighters and violence could return to the city due to the existence of sleeper cells and Tal Afar was the last city still under the control of the ISIS militants.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the ISIS, had told reporters on Thursday that the ISIS fighters were “completely surrounded” in Tal Afar, with their resources drying up, as Iraqi forces moved closer to the city center.
Rasool, of the Iraqi Joint Military Command, said on Thursday that 302 ISIS fighters had been killed since the start of the operation. He added that 33 rigged vehicles and 35 tunnels had been destroyed. Officials provided no updated figures on Sunday.
The United Nations warned of the risks to thousands of Iraqi families as they sought to flee the battleground in the scorching heat. The U.N. refugee and migration agencies on Tuesday called for civilians to be given safe passage out of the conflict zone.
“We fear that Iraqi civilians are likely to be held as human shields again and that attempts to flee could result in executions/shootings,” said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, in a news release. (ANI)