As the fight to retake Mosul from so-called Islamic State continues, a hugely significant battle is also raging 80 kilometres west of the Iraqi city.
Shi’ite militia backed by the Iraqi government are fighting the jihadists near the strategic town of Tal Afar.
Earlier this week, the militias announced the capture of the Tal Afar air base. Their ultimate goal is seizing the town itself, as this would help choke off ISIL’s supply lines between Mosul and the Syrian parts of the group’s self-styled Caliphate.
In Mosul itself, US-backed Iraqi troops have expanded their foothold on the eastern side of the city but fears for the safety of civilians are slowing their advance as the jihadists put up fierce resistance including suicide car bombs and sniper fire.
“The enemy in this battle is exploiting civilians and using human shields, which limits our use of artillery and mortars,” said Iraqi Special Forces Major General Mohannad Al-Saidi, speaking of the offensive to retake the last major city under ISIL’s control in Iraq.
With militants digging in among the civilians as a defence tactic and moving around the city through tunnels, Special Forces are using drones to try to detect insurgents.
ISIL has pledged to mount more suicide attacks to combat Iraqi forces.
The number of fighters who are ready to blow themselves up is increasing, an insurgent commander told ISIL’s weekly magazine, al-Nabaa, published online on Thursday.
“We’re giving you the good news that the number of brothers ready for martyrdom is very large and, with God’s grace, the brothers who are demanding martyr operations are increasing,” said the commander, who was not named.
Some 60,000 people have been displaced from Mosul because of the fighting, according to UN estimates. The UNHCR says more help is needed to support them.
As a battle that started on October 17 rages on, it is becomingly increasingly clear that recapturing the whole city of Mosul won’t likely take weeks but months.