An Iraqi army armored vehicle during operations against ISIS militants east of Tal Afar. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Civilians are suffering under extreme heat as they flee the Tal Afar area where Iraqi forces have taken a number of villages in the first days of an offensive to oust ISIS from the northern Iraqi town.
Iraqi Security Forces have taken about 230 square kilometres of ground from ISIS in the last 24 hours, coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted Monday evening.
The offensive is taking place in temperatures as high as 44 degrees Celsius, creating a concern for aid agencies working with displaced civilians.
“Families are trekking for 10 to 20 hours in extreme heat to reach mustering points,” said the UN’s Lise Grande on Sunday. “They are arriving exhausted and dehydrated.”
More than 30,000 civilians have already fled the area, she said. An estimated 10,000 to 50,000 civilians are believed to still be living under ISIS control in Tal Afar and the surrounding areas, according to coalition figures.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the commencement of operations by security forces to retake the Tal Afar, which has a large Turkmen population as well as Arabs and Kurds.
It has served as a key ISIS route between Iraq and Syria since 2014 and is the last major centre in northwestern Iraq still controlled by the terrorist group.
Monday evening, the Hashd al-Shaabi announced that Iraqi forces have come within 900 metres of western Tal Afar.
The US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), Federal Police, the Rapid Response Force, Iraqi Army, and Hashd al-Shaabi are taking part in the operation with the backing of the coalition.