A military offensive to end the Islamic State’s occupation of the Iraqi city of Tal Afar has begun, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced on early Sunday. The northern city is one of the last ISIS strongholds in Iraq.
Al-Abadi, in a televised speech on early Sunday morning, said the military operation is now underway. It comes just weeks after Iraqi forces declared victory in the battle for Mosul, which killed up to 1,700 Iraqi security forces.
“The city of Tal Afar will get ready to join other liberated areas as the heroes are being prepared to make sacrifices and exert efforts to liberate this steadfast city,” Al-Abadi said. “I tell Daesh (ISIS): you either surrender or die.”
Al-Abadi vowed to continue the process of liberation, emphasizing that the security forces have been successful in retaking control of other areas which were occupied by ISIS. “We triumphed in all the battles we fought, while death and defeat were the fate of Daesh in all the battles they fought,” he said.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces have surrounded much of the city since June, making it difficult for any of the estimated 1,000 ISIS fighters to escape. Iraqi soldiers were deployed in four areas on early Sunday morning and cut off some of the remaining escape routes.
Intense artillery bombardments were reported as the offensive got underway.
U.S.-led forces carried out a series of airstrikes in the Tal Afar area in the days prior to the start of the offensive. The airstrikes destroyed an ISIS headquarters, three car bomb factories, 24 ISIS roadblocks, and seven rocket systems, according to the U.S.-led coalition.
Tal Afar, which is west of Mosul and about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the border with Syria, sits along a major road that served as a key supply route for ISIS. The city, along with towns in the area, are the group’s last major stronghold in Iraq since the liberation of Mosul in early July.
Previously home to about 200,000 people, most of Tal Afar’s residents were able to flee after ISIS seized control of the city in June 2014. Iraqi officials estimate that approximately 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the city.
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