Fighters gather at Ayn al-Hisan, on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive to retake the western side of Mosul from ISIS. Photo: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With the fall of ISIS in Mosul Iraqi forces have now turned their attention to Tal Afar further west and a large scale operation is underway to wrest control of the town from the radical group.
"The operation began yesterday," Jabar Yawar, Chief of Staff for the Peshmerga Ministry told Rudaw English on Wednesday. "Around 18 villages in Tal Afar have already been liberated as announced by the commanders of federal government forces."
According to Fahd Abdullah Taai, an officer in the Iraqi army, nearly 100 tanks and armored vehicles full of soldiers have been stationed near the Badush area, 40 kilometers from Tal Afar, as part of ramped up preparations to liberate the predominantly Turkmen town from ISIS.
Only the Iraqi army, the federal police and the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), totaling almost 40,000 soldiers will be carrying out the offensive.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a tribal delegation from Tal Afar in late 2016 that the Hashd al-Shaabi forces would not enter the Turkmen town but instead the Iraqi army would take over that mission.
However the Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces will be needed to secure the perimeters of Tal Afar, said Iraqi army General Khalaf.
Although the Iraqi general predicts the operation will be difficult, Peshmerga Ministry’s Yawar is more optimistic. He believes “that in a short period of time, Tal Afar will be taken, because there is no supply line for ISIS in the region and Tal Afar has been under siege for a long time by the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, more than five months."
Yawar believes the battle for Tal Afar might be easier because “the morale of ISIS militants is destroyed,”
Tal Afar, 60 kilometers west of Mosul, has been under ISIS control since mid-2014.
“All of the leaders of Daesh who were previously in Mosul are from Tel Afar,” Gen. Khalaf said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “Now they only control Tel Afar.”
Gen. Khalaf estimated that there were between 900 and 1000 ISIS fighters in the town along with their families.
When ISIS first took control of the town in 2014, the residents of Tel Afar fled to other villages south of Baghdad which were safe from ISIS.
“That means no civilians are left in Tel Afar,” Gen. Khalaf said. “The only people now inside Tel Afar are the families of ISIS fighters.”
Both Peshmerga’s Chief of Staff Yawar and Iraqi Gen. Khalaf agreed that Tel Afar should be liberated in less than a month.
“God willing, within two weeks,” he said.
“I think that by the first of September, anybody will be able to go to Tel Afar.”