Thousands of civilians flee Tal Afar amid battles between ISIS and Iraqi forces

Iraqi Security Forces continued their advance against the so-called Islamic State on Thursday as part of their drive to dislodge militants from Tal Afar. According to a statement from Iraq’s Federal Police, the neighbourhoods of al-Jazeera on the city’s southern axis, al-Nour on the eastern axis, and both Kifah neighbourhoods on the western axis, have been liberated.

Fighting is currently ongoing between the combined forces of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) and the Rapid Response Forces in the Wahda neighbourhood, located east and adjacent to the northern Kefah neighbourhood, and between the combined forces of the PMU and Iraqi Army’s 9th Division in the Tanik neighbourhood. The Iraq Joint Operations Command believe that up to 2,000 militants remain in Tal Afar.

On the northeastern axis of Tal Afar, approximately 30km from the city, the Federal Police are attempting to open a further axis by liberating the villages along the Kasik interchange. According to an Iraqi Army Commander, Colonel Amir Abbas, the security units arrived and cleared the Kasik intersection yesterday after clashes on Tuesday. Following these gains, the 16th Infantry Division are now opening supply raids for the units to continue their surge towards the city.

In the ensuing battles, hundreds of civilians have been fleeing Tal Afar. The United Nations estimates that up to 40,000 people remain stranded in the city and are being used as human shields by ISIS militants. This represents a significant drop from the pre-conflict population of the city, which was estimated to be over 200,000 people.

According to a report from the International Organisation for Migration, 3200 civilians have fled from Tal Afar since the 18th August, while a further 30,000 have fled since April this year. Most of the displaced are being sent to camps south and east of Mosul.

Many of those fleeing the city have done so at great personal risk as the journey is fraught with numerous dangers. ISIS militants have prevented civilians from leaving, killing those that are captured fleeing the city. The paths out of the city have also been laced with mines, while travelling along the desert road towards safety usually means travelling when temperatures reach above and beyond 40 degrees celsius.

One elderly woman recounts the heartbreaking moment when a family had to leave one of their relatives behind. “Two women died on the road. It was very difficult,” the woman began. “There was an elderly woman from Tal Afar whose family left her behind. She asked us to take her with us but we could not.”