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Iraqi security forces launch offensive on city of Tal Afar

Iraqi security forces launched a U.S.-backed offensive to take back the city of Tal Afar, in the campaign to defeat Islamic State militants.

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Iraqi security forces launch offensive on city of Tal Afar

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Iraqi security forces have launched an offensive to take back the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the U.S.-backed campaign to defeat Islamic State militants.

“You either surrender, or die,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said

A longtime stronghold of hardline Sunni insurgents, Tal Afar, 50 miles (80 km) west of Mosul, was cut off from the rest of the Islamic State-held territory in June.

The city is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shi’ite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

They are expected to put up a tough fight, even though intelligence from inside the city indicates they have been exhausted by months of combat, aerial bombardments, and by the lack of fresh supplies.

The city is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shi’ite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

About 2,000 battle-hardened militants remain in the city, according to U.S. and Iraqi military commanders.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” effectively collapsed last month, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces completed the takeover of the militants’ capital in Iraq, Mosul, after a nine-month campaign

Tal Afar’s importance lies in the fact that it controls the road connecting Mosul to Syria, and is the largest town on the northern Nineveh plains.

Already hundreds of civilians, many of them ethnic Turkmen, are fleeing the area every day in anticipation of the assault, complaining of a severe lack of food, violence at the hands of the militants, and air strikes by coalition planes.

Many residents left the town a long time ago to live in the surrounding villages where they feel safer and where there is more food.

The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), estimates that about 10,000 to 40,000 people are left in Tal Afar and surrounding villages.

Aid groups say they are not expecting a huge civilian exodus as most the city’s former residents have already left.