Iraqi warplanes bombed Tal Afar — the Islamic State’s last stronghold in northern Iraq — in preparation for a ground assault, defense officials said.
The bombardment has intensified in the past several days, targeting IS headquarters, tunnels and armories. Last month, a senior Iraqi commander and former Tal Afar mayor said that between 1,500 and 2,000 militants and their families remain in the city.
Wednesday, Kurdish Peshmerga troops arrested 30 IS militants who officials said attempted to escape Tal Afar — which was once the home of 200,000 people — by traveling through Peshmerga-held territory.
Tal Afar is 35 miles west of Mosul, the city recaptured last month from the Islamic State by Iraqi troops who were backed by a U.S.-led force. It is also on a major road between Mosul and the Syrian border, and was once a key IS supply route.
United Nations Humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said the city faces food and water shortages, adding that escaping civilians must walk up to 20 hours to reach safety.
The Iraqi federal police said special forces and armored military units are grouping in preparation for an assault on Tal Afar. Although it remains unknown when the push will begin, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made it clear that the city is their next target.
Federal Police chief Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat said the units are “regrouping in combat positions.”
By Ed Adamczyk