On early Sunday morning, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the long-awaited operations to liberate the city of Tal Afar from ISIS militants. The city, which had long been besieged by the Kurdish Peshmerga from the north and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) from the south, is the last major urban centre held by ISIS alongside the city of Hawija in the Kirkuk Province.
The operations will be conducted jointly by various arms of the ISF. The Iraqi Army will participate in the battle with its 9th, 15th and 16th Armoured Divisions supported by artillery and medical teams. The push of the army will take place in conjunction with operations conducted by the 1st and 3rd Special Operations Divisions of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF), the Motorised Divisions of the Iraqi Federal Police and the 6th Unit of the Iraqi Rapid Reaction Forces. The Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), which stood out of much of Mosul, will also participate in Tal Afar, with their Badr Corps, Imam Ali Brigades, the Abbas Combat Brigade and a small number of Sunni Tribal Mobilisation Units. All these operations are due to be supported by the Iraqi Air Force, with the International Coalition also providing air and artillery support.
At present, the CTF is pushing towards the city from the southwest while the PMU and the 9th Division is pushing from the east, though much of the PMU is expected to focus on the surrounding countryside rather than the city itself. The 16th Division, meanwhile, has began a push from the northern reaches of the city.
Since the launch of the operations, the ISF has already liberated numerous villages including Tal al-Sabban, Ibra al-Shimaliya, al-Abra al-Sagheera region before advancing onto and liberating the villages of al-Saad, al-Zahraa, al-Wihda and the Kasak Refinery. The spokesperson for the Iraqi Joint Operations Forces, Yahya Rasoul, said on Tuesday that the ISIS lines around Tal Afar were collapsing rapidly and that they expect a victory far quicker than the one in Mosul.
It is unknown how many civilians still reside in the city which had a population of approximately 200,000 when ISIS took over in the summer of 2014. Consisting mostly of Turkmen of both Sunni and Shia backgrounds, Tal Afar was the scene to numerous mass executions by the militant group. Meanwhile, civilians have been leaving the city steadily over the past three years, with about 10,000 people fleeing the city over the past two weeks alone.
The launch of the operations to liberate the city comes after months of deliberation and numerous delays due to a number of political reasons. Turkey has been especially sensitive with regards to who liberates the city, due to the Turkmen makeup of the city’s population while most of the ISF consists of Iraqi Arabs. In conjunction, the city is located on a strategic crossroad between Turkey, Syria and Mosul, with both the ISF and the Kurdish Peshmerga keen to control the routes.