Operation 'toughest urban battle' since World War Two, says deputy commander of US-led coalition against the extremists
Tal Afar battle: ISIL fighters are besieged and end is near
Iraqi forces have "completely surrounded" ISIL militants in the northern city of Tal Afar after advances on Thursday, the US-led coalition against the extremist group said.
"ISIL fighters are completely besieged from all sides and their resources have been frozen in Tal Afar as coalition forces continue to support Iraqi ground troops," spokesman Col Ryan Dillon said at a press conference with General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Iraqi military.
Located about 60 kilometres from city of Mosul and the borders with Turkey and Syria, Tal Afar has been under ISIL’s control since mid-2014 and is one of the last remaining urban areas still held by the extremist group in Iraq. The offensive to retake Tal Afar began earlier this month, weeks after ISIL was driven out of Mosul, with air strikes on militant positions.
Maj Gen Rupert Jones, the coalition's British deputy commander, said Iraqi forces were off to a "really positive start" and "closing the noose" around the militants.
"The key is that they've broken into the city," he said, and described the Tal Afar offensive as "the toughest urban battle since World War Two".
The liberation of Tal Afar and of Nineveh province will "essentially end ISIL's military presence in northern Iraq", he said.
"ISIL are losing on all fronts and our partners have irresistible momentum," Maj Gen Jones said. "They are losing on the battlefield, they are losing financially, the flow of foreign fighters has slowed to a trickle. Their narrative has been so significantly discredited," he said.
The coalition estimates that about 2,000 ISIL fighters remain in Tal Afar; about 2,500 in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where the militants are under attack by US-backed Syrian militias; and between 5,000 and 10,000 in the Middle Euphrates River Valley region that cuts across Syria.
An Iraqi military commander told Associated Press on Wednesday that Iraqi forces had captured two neighbourhoods in Tal Afar — Al Kifah Al Janoubi on the south-western edge of the city and Al Kifah Al Shamali on its north-western edge.
Victory in the town, where the majority of the population — both Shiite and Sunni — is ethnically Turkmen, would mean the loss of one of the most strategically important strongholds for ISIL.
Along with Tal Afar, ISIL still controls the town of Hawija in Kirkuk province, as well as the towns of Qaim, Rawa and Ana near the Syrian border in the western province of Anbar.