Following the historic liberation of Mosul from ISIS in July of this year, US-led Iraqi forces battled for the city of Tal Afar, Iraq, and continued their winning streak. In June of 2014, the extremist group had taken control of the city, eliminating a key military supply route between Syria and Iraq. Since the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein, Tal Afar has been a stronghold for Iraqi extremists. When the fight was in its preparatory stages, most of the allied military powers in the Iraqi-Syrian area unified to execute a full-fledged attack on the 1,000-manned, heavily concentrated enemy territory. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), counter-terrorism units, militia, as well as both federal and local police were to take part in the assault. International coalition air support, engineers, medics, and even, as described by Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, “first-class citizens,” would be there to assist the ground team. This victory would be a landmark that Iraq, Syria, and perhaps the world would not soon forget.
Just before the main attack and when small provocative fights began, nearly 50,000 civilians fled Tal Afar in extreme heat in search of hospitality and over 1 million were displaced by the nine-month battle to regain control of Mosul from ISIS. Although the road to safety throughout the district was tough and conditions were worsening with the lack of food and water, life in Tal Afar under ISIS control was far worse. A spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency said, “We fear that Iraqi civilians are likely to be held as human shields again and that attempts to flee could result in executions.” With authorities closing in, the citizens’ supply of basic necessities was nearly nonexistent. The allied forces soon began their advance, and on August 20th, the battle had officially begun.
American-trained squads leading Iraqi forces moved in from all directions, surrounding and pinning down the Islamic State’s men and drying up their resources. Allied forces destroyed 35 underground tunnels used by ISIS as escape routes and for transportations of resources. The playing field leveled not long after the allies’ first strike, and the brutality only increased. The fight was expected to be arduous, but it was when explosives came into the mix that the offensive forces grasped the full extent of the situation. ISIS did not want to let go of their stronghold because a loss not only meant one defeat, but many more to come as the military supply route could be put to use.
The ISF told ISIS to surrender or be killed, and they refused to give themselves up despite knowing they were going to lose. US Army Lieutenant General Townsend, the commander of the war effort against ISIS said, “At the end, it took bulldozers plowing ISIS fighters under the rubble… as Iraqi infantrymen advanced, shooting and throwing grenades. It was the hardest combat I’ve witnessed in 35 years.”
American military officials and Iraqi security forces are concerned ISIS could return to Tal Afar as they did in Mosul. Sleeper cells still exist in the western part of Mosul despite the city’s liberation. According to the US-led international coalition, “… The ISF have proven themselves a capable, formidable, and increasingly professional force…” However, according to Townsend, “Mosul was a decisive victory for the ISF, but it did not mark the end of ISIS in Iraq or its worldwide threat.”