TAL AFAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi forces raised the national flag yesterday in the heart of Tal Afar, Islamic State’s stronghold in the country’s northwest, and said they were poised to take full control of the city after a week-long offensive.
Tal Afar is the latest objective in the US-backed war on the jihadist group following the recapture in July of Mosul, where it declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Tal Afar was cut off from the rest of IS-held territory in June and the campaign to recapture it started on Aug. 20, when up to 2,000 militants were believed to be defending it against around 50,000 attackers, according to western military sources.
“Tal Afar city is about to fall completely into the hands of our forces, only five per cent remains” under Islamic State control, an Iraqi military spokesman told Reuters.
Elite forces had liberated the heart of the city “and raised the national flag on top of the citadel building,” a statement from the Iraqi joint operations command said.
Much of the Ottoman-era building was destroyed by the militants in 2014.
Such a quick collapse of Islamic State in the city, which has been a breeding ground for jihadist groups, would confirm Iraqi military reports that the militants lack command and control structures west of Mosul.
A Reuters visuals team in Tal Afar said fighting had eased yesterday, with just occasional artillery rounds heard. There was no sign of civilians in two neighborhoods it visited.