Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announces the start of the offensive to retake Tal Afar, a key Northern Iraqi bastion of Daesh, in a televised speech.

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Federal Police on August 15, 2017, shows Iraqi armoured units headed for the town of Tal Afar, the main remaining Daesh  stronghold in the northern part of the country.
A handout picture released by the Iraqi Federal Police on August 15, 2017, shows Iraqi armoured units headed for the town of Tal Afar, the main remaining Daesh stronghold in the northern part of the country. (AFP)

Iraqi security forces have launched an offensive to take back the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the US-backed campaign to defeat Daesh militants, Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said.

"I am saying to Daesh that there's no choice other than to leave or be killed,"  Abadi said in a televised speech announcing the offensive, addressing the militants.

A longtime stronghold of  Daesh, Tal Afar – 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of Mosul – was cut-off from the rest of the Daesh-held territory in June. (More here on why Tal Afar is Iraq's new battleground.)

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

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

Daesh’s self-proclaimed "caliphate" in Mosul effectively collapsed last month. US-backed Iraqi forces completed the takeover of Mosul after a brutal nine-month campaign.

Civilians have fled

Waves of civilians have fled the city and surrounding villages under cover of darkness for weeks now. Although several thousand are estimated to remain, threatened with death by the militants who have held a tight grip there since 2014.

Displaced Iraqis from Tal Afar are seen in Salamya camp, east of Mosul, Iraq  on August 6, 2017.
Displaced Iraqis from Tal Afar are seen in Salamya camp, east of Mosul, Iraq on August 6, 2017. (Reuters)

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. 

Iraqi commanders say the number of people left inside the city itself, including militants and their families, is closer to 5,000.

However, aid groups say they are not expecting a huge civilian exodus as most the city's former residents have already left.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies