Iraq launches ground offensive in Tal Afar



Aug. 20 (UPI) — Iraq launched a ground operation to retake Tal Afar, one of the last cities in the country held by the Islamic State group, the nation’s leader said Sunday.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, dressed in a black military uniform and standing in front of an Iraqi flag and a map of the country in Baghdad, warned jihadists in a televised address at 3 a.m.: “You have no choice: Either surrender or die.”

He told his troops, “The whole world is with you.”

The Islamic State took over Tal Afar, which has a mainly Shia-Muslim population of ethnic Turks, in 2014. The United States-led coalition estimates 10,000 to 50,000 civilians remain in the city, compared with 200,000 when the militants took over.

In July, Iraqi security forces regained Mosul, about 35 miles to the east.

In preparation for ground operations, Iraqi warplanes last week bombarded Islamic State positions in the city. Also, the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city to warn people to “prepare” for the latest assault.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, said: “The Iraqi Security Forces’ operation to liberate Tal Afar is another important fight that must be won to ensure the country and its citizens are finally free of IS. The coalition is strong, and fully committed to supporting our Iraqi partners until IS is defeated and the Iraqi people are free.”

Between 1,500 and 2,000 militants and their family members were left in the city, a senior Iraqi commander who once served as mayor of Tal Afar said last month.

The city has served as a supply route between Mosul and Syria.

Also remaining under Islamic State control are Hawija, which is 105 miles to the southeast, and from Ana to Al-Qaim in the Euphrates river valley, 13 miles to the south.



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