Tuesday, 21 November, 2017

Iraq's forces close net in IS-held town

Iraqi forces gain ground on ISIL in Tal Afar offensive US defense secretary in Iraq as troops battle for Tal Afar
Sammy Stanley | 24 August, 2017, 02:10

Aid agencies are warning that thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped in the Islamic State-controlled city of Tal Afar face great danger as they try to flee amid the government's battle to retake the city.

Iraqi forces had encircled the city despite what Hashed spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi called "intense" fighting.

"The fighting's tough, but the momentum was with our partners and the Iraqi security forces and in the Syrian Democratic Forces", he said.

Brett McGurk, US special envoy to the coalition, said that while the battle for Tal Afar would be hard, Iraqi forces had retaken 235 square km (90 miles) in the first 24 hours.

But Heras said Mattis, whom he said has earned firm trust among Iraqis, needs to help Abadi further build his base as a moderate for the post-war period, with elections looming for next year.

Mattis spoke alongside Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, who is to finish his tour of duty in early September.

A key issue is a plan for an independence referendum on September 25 in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Mattis later Tuesday met the autonomous region's president Massud Barzani.

Iraqi troops backed by a US-led global coalition routed IS in Mosul in July after a gruelling nine-month fight for Iraq's second city.

The terrorists, he said, "have been shown to be unable to stand up to our team in combat and they have not retaken one inch of ground that they've lost".

Mattis cited the progress in Iraq and the USA -backed operation in Syria to retake Raqqah, Islamic State's self-declared capital in that country.

Croft said that over the past two or three months, he had seen a fracturing in Islamic State leadership.

USA special operations forces are helping direct airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tall Afar.

Iraqi forces had "fought like the dickens in Mosul, (it) cost them over 6,000 wounded, somewhere over 1,200 killed", he said. He predicted the battle for Tall Afar, which is just one-tenth the size of Mosul, will take about four months.

The battle for Tal Afar would be hard, United States officials said. Federal Police together with the Rapid Response Force and the Hashd al-Shaabi are closing in on Mullah Jasim village, considered the largest in the area. There are also militia fighters under the umbrella of the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces advancing toward the city.

"As we get into the urban areas — as we saw in Mosul and Raqqa — that's where we'll see the pace slow down, that's where (IS) have placed their defenses", he said. Those remaining are threatened with death by the militants, who have held a tight grip there since 2014.

"We are now only 2 kilometers away from Tal Afar".

Asked about concerns that US airstrikes had caused civilian casualties, Mattis replied that "no military in the world's history has paid more attention to limiting civilian casualties". "But we are the good guys, and the innocent people on the battlefield know the difference".

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