ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Islamic State (IS) has begun digging trenches in Tal Afar as Iraqi security forces prepare to launch a major offensive against the group.
The extremist group has reportedly started forming a defensive line to hold one of their last remaining strongholds in Iraq, according to local media and sources.
IS recently lost Mosul, their de facto capital and major stronghold in Iraq, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory against the jihadist group in the city on July 10.
The militant group’s leadership has warned its fighters of an “imminent assault” on Tal Afar following Iraqi army officials announcing their plans to advance in the area, local sources said.
Tal Afar, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Mosul, is one of the remaining cities in Iraq still under IS control.
Sources close to the city said the trenches are being built “to de-escalate military advances” by the Iraqi army.
Operations to liberate areas around Tal Afar began last week as Iraqi paramilitary forces, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Hashd al-Shaabi, retook over a dozen villages.
The Iranian-backed PMF cleared the road linking areas west of Mosul to the southeast of Tal Afar, according to Iraqi media.
The Shia troops took control of 17 villages between Mosul and Tal Afar.
Meanwhile, Iraqi army Major General Najm al-Jabouri said he predicts the upcoming offensive to reclaim the city from IS will be “easy.”
Jabouri pointed to the fatigue and low morale of the militants after their defeat in Mosul.
“I don’t expect it will be a fierce battle even though the enemy is surrounded,” he told Reuters.
The US-led coalition confirmed it would continue to support Iraqi forces with air strikes as they prepare their advance in the city.
Editing by G.H. Renaud