Coalition tightens noose around Daesh in Tal Afar

Displaced Iraqi women from Tal Afar make bread in Salamya camp, east of Mosul, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 19 August 2017
0

Coalition tightens noose around Daesh in Tal Afar

BAGHDAD/IRBIL, Iraq: Five weeks after securing victory in Mosul, Iraqi forces have moved into positions around the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the US-backed campaign to defeat Daesh militants, Iraqi military commanders say.
The city is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shiite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.
The coalition’s targets on Friday included weapons depots and command centers, in preparation for the ground assault.
About 2,000 battle-hardened militants remain in the city, according to the US and Iraqi military commanders. 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.
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.
Thousands of troops stand ready at the front-line, awaiting orders from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to start the offensive, Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Uthman Al-Ghanimi said this week.
The main forces deployed around Tal Afar are the Iraqi army, federal police and the elite US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), Iraqi commanders told Reuters.
Units from the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), some of which are trained and armed by Iran, are also likely to take part in the battle, as well as volunteers from Tal Afar fighting alongside government troops, they said.
Iraqi forces have already begun conducting air strikes aimed at “wearing them down and keeping them busy,” Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said.
Maj. Gen. Najm Al-Jabouri told Reuters last month he expected an easy fight in Tal Afar. He estimated fewer than 2,000 militants and their families were left there and they were “demoralized and worn down.”
“I don’t expect it will be a fierce battle even though the enemy is surrounded,” Al-Jabouri said.
Residents who left Tal Afar last week told Reuters the militants looked exhausted.
But Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said he “fully expects this to be a difficult fight.”
Lt. Col. Salah Abdul Abbas of the 16th Infantry Division, said they were bracing for guerrilla street-fighting fight, based on the lessons learned in West Mosul.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), estimates that about 10,000 to 40,000 people are left in Tal Afar and surrounding villages. According to Iraqi commanders, 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 of the city’s former residents have already left.
Meanwhile, gunmen killed seven family members of an Iraqi police officer in a pre-dawn attack Friday on their home near the northern city of Kirkuk, security officials told AFP.
A Kirkuk police captain, asking not to be named, said the unidentified assailants had kidnapped the seven family members, among them three of the officer’s children. The officer himself managed to escape during clashes between police and the gunmen, but the seven relatives including a son aged 15 were killed, he said.


Turkey attacks Greece's decision to grant 2 Turkish officers asylum

Updated 46 min 6 sec ago
0

Turkey attacks Greece's decision to grant 2 Turkish officers asylum

  • A group of eight Turkish officers escaped to neighbouring Greece after the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Turkey says they should be extradited because they are "terrorists", but the requests were rejected by the Greek Supreme Court.

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday hit back at a Greek court's decision to grant political refugee status to two Turkish officers who fled to Greece after a 2016 failed coup, accusing Athens of protecting "terrorists."
A group of eight Turkish officers escaped to neighbouring Greece after the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey says they should be extradited because they are "terrorists", but the requests were rejected by the Greek Supreme Court, stoking tensions between Ankara and Athens.
Greece's top administrative court, the Council of State, made the decision to grant asylum on Wednesday after rejecting an appeal lodged by the Greek government.
The Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that Greece "protects and shelters putschists" as officials strongly condemned the decision.
Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Omer Celik said the Greek legal system has "ruled to protect the terrorists who attempted a coup to overthrow Turkish democracy".
He said the decision was the "most embarrassing ruling possible for any country".
The top administrative Greek court on Wednesday found in favour of the co-pilot of the helicopter which flew the men over the border, and the decision also applies to another one of the men.
A Greek judicial source said the Greek government has launched an appeal against the second ruling -- the result of which will apply to the next six officers.
"We hope that the Greek judiciary will refrain from repeating the same mistakes," the Turkish foreign ministry said.
Turkey claims the soldiers are members of the movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of ordering the attempted putsch.
The eight officers deny any involvement in the coup attempt.
Relations between the two NATO allies have been further strained after the pre-trial detention of two Greek soldiers since March.
The soldiers were arrested after crossing the border into Turkey but claim they got lost in the fog. A Turkish court on Tuesday ruled the soldiers should remain in jail.
The number of Turks seeking asylum in Greece increased tenfold between 2016 and 2017, reaching 1,827.