Iraq’s military made significant gains in their offensive to retake the strategic town of Tal Afar from ISIL militants.The city is at a crossroads near the Syrian border, 80 kilometers west of Mosul.

The PMF, a Shia militia taking part in the attack, which started on Sunday, said they would be on the outskirts of the city by Monday evening, and gave v fighters 12 hours to disarm and surrender. But, despite these early gains, the fighting will likely become far more complicated as the Iraqi soldiers hit urban areas.

Tal Afar has been under the control of ISIL for three years and now finds itself surrounded by different branches of the Iraqi security services.

In the wide open plains outside the city, Iraqi armor and air support are crucial and the 12 villages outside the city have already been retaken.

“Now, we are on the main road that connects Mosul to Tal Afar through Kesik junction. Our units have reached the junction and brought it under their full control. The engineering team of the 16th infantry division is clearing the road to open a supply line for the troops,” Iraqi Army Colonel Amer Abass said.

The city of Tal Afar has played an important role for ISIL, channeling supplies and weapons from Syria into Iraq. While those supply routes have been cut for sometime, the militants will be well prepared. And, despite being surrounded, they will likely put up a fierce fight.

“According to relevant messages, in Tal Afar there are Arabic and foreign extremists, and it is an important command post for the extremist group. It is estimated now that there are 2,000 of them in the city as well as less than 10,000 residents,” Iraqi military expert Saed Al Jiyashi said.

As with the battle to retake Mosul, civilians are likely to bear much of the brunt of the fighting. Shortages of food and water are being reported throughout the city.

Air strikes and heavy artillery are likely to be utilized by Iraqi forces and, as with Mosul, ISIL will show no qualms about using human shields.

The next stage of the battle to expel ISIL from Iraq is now well underway, and after their victory in Mosul, moral is high among Iraq’s security services. But, there is little sign that ISIL’s militants will give up, and they know they face a long and ferocious fight ahead.

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