Iraqi forces launch offensive on last ISIS stronghold in country
Iraqi forces have launched an assault on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) last stronghold in the country, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday.
“The Iraqi Security Forces are battle-hardened after their victories in Mosul, Tal Afar and Hawijah. The ISF is a determined, professional force dedicated to ridding Iraq of Daesh,” the coalition said in a news release, using an alternate name for ISIS.
The offensive is in the al-Qaim district in the Middle Euphrates River Valley on the border with Syria. About 1,500 ISIS fighters are estimated to remain in the area, according to the coalition.
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. and coalition airpower, retook Mosul from ISIS in July. It was the last major city the terrorist group held in Iraq, but it has continued to hold smaller towns.
After Mosul, Iraqi forces quickly routed ISIS from Tal Afar in August. They then liberated Hawijah from ISIS at the beginning of October.
In announcing the al-Qaim offensive, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the ISIS fighters “have to choose between death and surrender.”
“The heroic legions are advancing into the last den of terrorism in Iraq to liberate al-Qaim, Rawa and the surrounding villages and hamlets,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Prior to ISIS’s control, al-Qaim had a population of about 150,000 people, according to the coalition.
“We anticipate a significant return of residents to the district upon Iraq’s liberation of al-Qaim,” the coalition said.
The coalition also touted that about 95 percent of land once held by ISIS in Iraq has been retaken, but added that “much work remains to consolidate gains as operations continue to destroy Daesh’s remaining capabilities.”
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