Iraqi forces have now seized control of most of the strategically significant city of Tal Afar from ISIS, the Iraqi Joint Military Command said Saturday.
Iraqi Joint Military Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said units from the joint Iraqi forces are in full control of 60% of the “operational area” and 90% of the city center of Tal Afar.
The offensive to retake the key northwestern city from ISIS started Sunday. Several divisions of Iraqi security, including the American-trained Counter Terrorism Forces, were advancing on Tal Afar from different sides.
The commander of the Tal Afar operation, Abdulamir Yarallah, said Saturday that units of the 9th Armored Division and the Popular Mobilization Units, also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, had captured al-Muthanna 2 district and the Tal Afar Hospital.
Smoke billows as Iraqi forces, backed by Popular Mobilization Units, advance inside the town of Tal Afar on Friday, August 25.
Earlier in the day, Yarallah said counterterrorism forces had “raised the Iraqi flag” in the central areas of The Citadel and al-Basateen.
Only a small area remains under ISIS control, in the north of the city, according to a map released by the Iraqi Joint Military Command.
Tal Afar is the last city still under the control of ISIS militants in Iraq’s Nineveh province following the liberation of Mosul, about 45 miles to the east.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS, told reporters on Thursday that 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 at the same news conference 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.
Fighters of the Popular Mobilisation Units flash the victory gesture as they sit in the back of a pickup truck during the advance in the eastern part of Tal Afar on Friday.
As the effort to retake Tal Afar got underway, the US-led coalition estimated that between 10,000 and 50,000 civilians remained in and around the city.
The United Nations warned of the risks to thousands of Iraqi families as they seek to flee the battleground in scorching heat.
“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 UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in a news release.
He added that people in the area had reportedly been enduring very difficult conditions for months, with a lack of food, clean water and electricity.
Tal Afar was captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, after a two-day battle.
ISIS fighters still control Hawija, west of Kirkuk, as well as the towns of Qaim, Rawa and Ana near the Syrian border.