Iraqi forces close in on IS-held town west of Mosul

Iraq launches battle for Tal Afar, IS bastion near Mosul

Iraqi security forces launched on Sunday an offensive to take back the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the USA -backed campaign to defeat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.

Fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) advance towards Tal Afar.

The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city warning people to "prepare" for the latest assault.

"Following their historic victory in Mosul, the (Iraqi security forces) have proven themselves a capable, formidable and increasingly professional force, and they are well-prepared to deliver another defeat to ISIS in Tal Afar", the US military said in a statement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned that Islamic State fighters must either "surrender or die" as he announced the launch of the offensive to liberate the city of Tal Afar.

"[Fighters] have been using tunnels to move from place to place to avoid air strikes", said 60-year-old Haj Mahmoud, a retired teacher.

"Thousands of people are fleeing Tal Afar for safety", said Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in a press release issued yesterday.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 militants and their families are estimated in Tal Afar, Brig.Gen. Yehia Rasool, a senior Iraqi commander and former Tal Afar mayor said last month.

Isis's self-proclaimed "caliphate" effectively collapsed in July when Iraqi security forces reclaimed its previous stronghold Mosul.

"Mosul was a decisive victory for the Iraqi Security Forces, but it did not mark the end of [IS] in Iraq, or its worldwide threat", said US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of US and Coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that thousands fleeing the area are at risk, trekking for hours in extreme heat.

The army says its forces have managed to capture several villages on the outskirts of the predominantly Turkmen district, which was overrun by Daesh in mid-2014 along with vast territories in northern and western Iraq.

As Isis (Islamic State) is driven out of Iraq and Syria, militants in the last throes of battle are turning to P in desperation.

The battle for Tal Afar, the last major population centre in northern Iraq under extremist control, has sparked fears for thousands of civilians trapped inside. It didn't take long for many to start suffering from dehydration, as they marched on toward safe areas.

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