MOSUL, Iraq, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi paramilitary units of Hashd Shaabi on Tuesday launched an operation to encircle the town of Tal Afar before storming it to drive out the Islamic State (IS) militants, a military statement said.
The predominantly Hashd Shaabi units advanced in the morning to isolate and encircle Tal Afar in preparation for the next stage to free it from the IS militants, the statement quoted the Hashd Shaabi spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi as saying.
Later in the day, the Hashd Shaabi units liberated the village of Kharabat Jheish in west of Tal Afar from the IS militants as they advanced to the town, another Hashd Shaabi statement said.
On Nov. 16, the paramilitary troops recaptured a strategic airbase near Tal Afar, some 70 km west of the IS-held city of Mosul.
Tal Afar, held by the IS since June 2014, has majority of both Sunni and Shiite Turkoman people, as well as other minorities of Kurds and Arabs.
The advance of the pre-dominantly Shiite paramilitary units in the ethnically mixed region, where Sunni Muslims form a majority, could spark sectarian tension with Sunni Arabs and neighboring Sunni state of Turkey.
The recapture of Tal Afar would cut off the IS supply route between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of IS self-declared caliphate. Moreover, the presence of the Hashd Shaabi in west of Mosul would secure the border areas between Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The advance to Tal Afar is part of a massive offensive to dislodge the IS extremist militants from the city of Mosul, which represents their last major stronghold in Iraq.
On Oct. 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a major offensive to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city.
Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.