Iraq starts offensive to take ISIL-held Tal Afar

Iraq starts offensive to take ISIL-held Tal Afar

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi announced the launch of the operation in televised speech and warned that ISIL fighters had a choice between "surrender or die".

It is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

The coalition conducted more than 60 strikes against Islamic State targets in and around Tal Afar during the last week, focusing on weapons caches, auto bomb factories and other sites, said U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the coalition.

Iraqi security forces and Popular Mobilization troops managed to liberate Tal al Saban village in western Tal Afar, Iraqi news agency reported on Sunday.

The main forces taking part in the offensive are the Iraqi army, air force, Federal Police, and the elite US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), who began encircling the city on Sunday.

Earlier, the army's Major General Najim al-Jubouri, commander of Nineveh's Operations Command, told reporters that he estimated there were between 1,500 and 2,000 IS militants left in Tal Afar.

Residents who left Tal Afar last week said the militants looked exhausted. Iraqi forces claim that Isis members in the city are demoralised and worn out and are unlikely to put up the same resistance they did in Mosul.

The town is only 37 miles east of Syrian border.

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Tal Afar, once a remote military outpost for the Ottoman Empire, fell to the Islamic State in 2014.

Some 49,000 people have fled the Tal Afar district since April, according to the United Nations.

"Families are trekking for 10 to 20 hours in extreme heat to reach mustering points".

And although Tall Afar is significantly smaller than Mosul, it promises to be a more complex battlefield for Iraqi forces.

Gen. Yahya Rasool said in a statement to local media that Iraqi forces had launched a multi-pronged attack on the city and had already clawed back several nearby villages.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, describes the situation inside Tal Afar as "very tough", where food and water are running out and people lack the basic necessities. However, after the ISIS gained control large Shiite populations massacred or were forced to leave the town. "They are arriving exhausted and dehydrated".

According to Arab 24, civilians were fleeing the city ahead of the offensive.

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