Tel Afar
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News Analysis |

According to Iraqi and US officials, Iraqi forces backed by Shiite militias have “completely surrounded” fighters affiliated with the Islamic State group in the northern city of Tal Afar.

Tal Afar and the surrounding areas are among the last pockets of ISIL-held territory in Iraq after victory was declared in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.

“The enemy is completely surrounded,” Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, said on Thursday in a joint press conference with Iraqi spokesman Yahya Rasool, AFP reported.

Sources reveal that Pakistan’s military has already trained hundreds of Iraq’s Special Forces Commandos in addition to providing training to officers in counter-insurgency tactics

US-backed Iraqi forces had been making gains in their battle to retake the key area from ISIL since announcing the start of the ground offensive on Sunday.

During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the progress in Tal Afar as “excellent”, calling it an “indication of the enemy’s collapse”.

Read more: Karzai blames the US for ISIS’s inception and proliferation

The city is located some 70km west of Mosul and about 150km east of the Syrian border, sitting along a major road that was a key ISIL supply route.

The town had a population of about 200,000 before it fell to ISIL in 2014 but since then, thousands of residents have fled the city.

Strategic importance of Tal-Afar

Tal Afar is the strategic gateway between Iraq – namely ISIS’s de facto capital of Mosul – and Syria and is the path along which ISIS has transferred militants, weapons, and civilians.

Pakistani military officials can play a vital role in Iraq’s counter-terrorism/insurgency operations. Iraqi Army already has modern weaponry but it lacks the training to fight a protracted insurgency

Tal Afar is also the strategic access point into the desert in Anbar, particularly former towns under ISIS control, such as al-Rutba, al-Baghdadi, and Haditha. The loss of the city will therefore eventually be a big loss to the group.

Will the capture of Tal-Afar by government forces make Iraq safe?

Tal-Afar is of great strategic importance and its loss would surely deprive IS of an important bastion. The security situation in Iraq would improve after the capture of the city by government forces but it would not be a guarantee of peace for the war-torn country.

Read more: ISIS: the face of terror and options for Pakistan to deal…

ISIS is a terrorist group and it has its bases in the western Iraqi desert in Anbar province. ISIS, despite being ousted from Fallujah, has continued to harass the beleaguered Iraqi army and police. It also launched surprise attacks on the Iraqi army positions in the Iraqi desert last year to divert the later from its offensive to retake Mosul.

Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists. It lost thousands of soldiers and civilians alike in addition to billions of dollars of economic losses

Terrorist groups rely primarily on guerrilla style hit and run tactics. The loss of major urban centers would not hamper ISIS capacity to conduct suicide operations in Iraqi cities and to attack isolated Iraqi military posts dotted across the western Iraqi desert.

Only a well-defined counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy would ensure peace and stability in Iraq which has been bleeding since the 2003 US invasion. It would not be wrong to conclude that the policies of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri-Al-Maliki isolated the Sunni population of Iraq which was effectively exploited by Islamic State and other terrorist groups in the country. Many disenchanted Sunnis filled the ranks of the notorious group. Some joined ISIS out of anger while others joined simply for economic reasons.

Read more: Pakistan is nipping the ISIS evil in the bud!

The new strategy to counter IS must address the concerns of the Sunni population of Iraq. They must be given proper representation in the Iraqi parliament, military, police, and bureaucracy. After the fall of Tal-Afar, Iraqi military should carry out operations against IS hideouts across the country to disrupt its operations and deny it the breathing space it desperately needs.

How can Pakistan help Iraq in its war against terrorism?

The loss of major urban centers would not hamper ISIS capacity to conduct suicide operations in Iraqi cities and to attack isolated Iraqi military posts dotted across the western Iraqi desert

Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists. It lost thousands of soldiers and civilians alike in addition to billions of dollars of economic losses. The Pakistani military was not trained to fight a protracted guerilla war. However, the military commanders quickly realized the importance of training Pakistan’s military to fight the asymmetric war.

In 2017, Pakistan’s military stand victorious. It has defeated terrorists and has cleared large swaths of its territory from militants affiliated with TTP and ISIS-K.

Read more: Plot thickens in great game over post-ISIS Iraq and Syria

Pakistani military officials can play a vital role in Iraq’s counter-terrorism/insurgency operations. Iraqi Army already has modern weaponry but it lacks the training to fight a protracted insurgency. This is the reason that despite outnumbering ISIS 5 to 1, it still lost Mosul to ISIS which shocked the entire world.

Simply by training the Iraqi military and playing the advisory role, Pakistan’s military can make a major difference on the battlefield in Iraq. Sources reveal that Pakistan’s military has already trained hundreds of Iraq’s Special Forces Commandos in addition to providing training to officers in counter-insurgency tactics.

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