Iraqi forces capture Tal Afar centre from ISIL

Iraqi forces capture Tal Afar centre from ISIL

TAL AFAR - Reuters
Iraqi forces capture Tal Afar centre from ISIL

A military vehicle of the Iraqi army with Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is seen during a fight with ISIL militants in Tal Afar - REUTERS

Iraqi forces have dislodged Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from 70 percent of Tal Afar, a stronghold of the militants in northwestern Iraq, including its central citadel neighborhood, officials and military commanders said on Aug. 26. 

"Seventy percent of the city has been liberated.... God willing, the remaining part will be liberated soon," Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and French Defence Minister Florence Parly, in Baghdad.

The offensive on Tal Afar, which lies on the supply route between Syria and the former ISIL stronghold of Mosul, started on Aug. 20.

The elite Counter Terrorism Service "liberated the citadel neighborhood .. and raised the Iraqi flag on top of the citadel building," a statement from the Iraqi joint operations command said.

Much of the Ottoman-era citadel itself was destroyed by the militants end 2014.

The city, located 80 km (50 miles) west of Mosul, has produced some of the militant group's most senior commanders.

It experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Tal Afar, which had a pre-war population of about 200,000, is the latest objective in the U.S.-backed war on ISIL following the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month campaign that left much of the city, the biggest in northern Iraq, in ruins. 

The fall of Mosul effectively marked the end of the self-proclaimed caliphate ISIL declared over parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014. Tal Afar was cut off from the rest of ISIL-held territory in June.

Up to 2,000 militants remain in Tal Afar, according to U.S. and Iraqi military commanders. The number of civilians left in the city is between 10,000 and 20,000, according to the U.S. military.