After taking Mosul last month, Sunday, August 20, 2017, Iraqi forces turned their attention to Tal Afar, the last ISIS citadel in the Nineveh province which has wrought a slew of terrorist leaders for both ISIS and al-Queda. Mosul, which had been overthrown by ISIS in 2014 and deemed the capital of their caliphate, was taken back by the Iraqis through a U.S. backed military operation.
On July 9, 2017, Mosul, a city in absolute ruin and chaos celebrated a bittersweet victory as they were liberated from the terrorist organization. The city is almost totally destroyed and was lined with the bodies of fighters from both sides as well as those of innocent civilians that ISIS held captive and/or killed. Additionally, approximately 1,000,000 people have been displaced by this nine-month fight. They are traumatized, hungry, thirsty, and cannot get to enough resources to sustain themselves. The displacement count is mounting as Sunday’s offensive both liberates citizens from terrorism but, in many areas, leaves them homeless as they flee from the clutches of war.
It is estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 people have escaped from Tal Afar, but it is believed that anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 citizens remain. ISIS, as was seen in Mosul, takes innocent civilians hostage to use as human shields. They kidnap and use children, as young as five, by forcing them to commit atrocities such as dismembering enemies while they are still alive and to do their bidding as child soldiers. Further, they sell young girls and boys online on Jihad sites as sex slaves, often after raping them themselves.
“You cut off an arm, and you slash his face with a knife,” eleven -year-old Hadya and her five-year-old brother were told by an ISIS soldier in regards to a captive enemy. “Otherwise I’ll take you away from your mother and kill you all.”
“….I had to cut his hand off. I did it. Fadi had to cut his feet off. Shadi had to cut his face with a knife”
The five-year-old, Shadi was forced to kill the man by stabbing him in the eye. Thus, the situation for those citizens who are currently in Tal Afar and may not be able to escape ISIS is precarious at best as they only have this or displacement as options.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis made a surprise visit to Iraq Tuesday regarding the U.S. affiliated strike against ISIS in Tal Afar. Since Sunday, the offensive has had many successes as village after village has been liberated from the grips of ISIS, but it is an all out war as Iraqi military commanders speculate there may be approximately 2,000 ISIS fighters to contend with. So far, Iraqi forces have prevented an ISIS drone attack, detonated 12 explosive devices south of Tal Afar, bypassed a concrete barrier, and seized a multitude of weapon stashes from small arms to rockets.
Further, on Monday, Lieutenant General Shaker Jawdat, the Chief of Federal Police in Iraq stated that Iraqi troops took control of an ISIS tunnel system that spans around 250 kilometers. To add, an ISIS recruitment officer, Abu Qatada al-Afri, along with four other ISIS militants were killed Tuesday during an air strike. More than ten villages have been freed from ISIS tyranny since the start of the foray. It has been an arduous and dangerous journey.
ISIS uses citizens, children in particular, as human shields. They have also used barricades, booby-trapped vehicles, planted explosives, and suicide bombers to attack Iraqi troops. Plus they have used their tunnel systems for mobilization, training, and weapons running. In addition, ISIS militants have set oil wells ablaze to prevent aerial raids from being able to pinpoint their locations.
The taking back of Tal Afar will be one of the most significant wins for the Iraqi people in the war against ISIS as it was the first large Iraqi city ISIS took control of. Iraqi forces have been slowly, but strategically taking back the towns and villages that surround these large cities in an effort to cut off the roads ISIS would use to escape.
Meanwhile, citizens flee in droves under the dark cloak of night. The reign of ISIS may be coming to an end in Iraq as today, August 23, 2017, Iraqi forces have taken part of Tal Afar where their flag now flies. There is nothing in the world that can fix what has happened to this war torn nation, but it is hoped the world will come together to help lift these people up and show them the love and compassion that has been denied them for so long.