Duhok – Iraqi security forces announced on Wednesday that they had captured Tel Afar airbase after fierce clashes with Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Tel Afar District, where the airbase is located, remains contested.
Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) reported that their fighters had eliminated the base’s defenders, in cooperation with other branches of the Iraqi military. “The airport of Tel Afar has been liberated,” PMU spokesman Yusif al-Kallabi told reporters.
Tel Afar District lies to the west of Mosul city and was a critical supply line, allowing ISIS to transfer men and materiel between its two de facto capitals.
“By capturing Tel Afar airbase, the Iraqi forces have cut off a main ISIS supply route between Syria and Mosul,” Iraqi Army officer Hamid Saadi told ARA News.
Saadi added that Tel Afar is an important step in the military campaign to capture Mosul and all of western Iraq. PMU Commander Hadi al-Amiri concurred, telling reporters that “Tel Afar will be the starting point for the liberation of all of the areas [along] the Syrian border.”
Major Gains in Battle for Mosul
While al-Amiri’s zeal may have seemed quixotic in 2015 it doesn’t today. The Iraqi Army General Command announced on Tuesday that more than 2,800 Islamic State jihadists have been killed since the onset of the battle for Mosul.
“At least 2,801 Daesh terrorists have been killed since the launch of the Mosul operation on October 17th,” the General Command said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
While that tally is going to fluctuate, the Islamic State is undeniably on the back foot. According to the US-led coalition, ISIS has lost the majority of its Iraqi territory.
In support of Kurdish and Arab ground forces, coalition warplanes have repeatedly struck the Islamic State’s tactical units. In October and November, those air raids destroyed at least 59 ISIS vehicles and 80 entrenched fighting positions.
The Kurdish Peshmerga have exploited that air cover, securing Mosul’s northeastern countryside and capturing dozens of villages and towns. Bashiqa city, a district capital, fell to the Peshmerga last week.
Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Units have also made sweeping advances, capturing eight neighborhoods in Mosul City, including Malayan, al-Samah, al-Khadraa, Karkukli, al-Quds, Karama, al-Orbajiyah and al-Qadisiya al-Thaniya.