TIKRIT, Iraq, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Wednesday fought the Islamic State (IS) militant and retook control of 12 villages in the northern central province of Salahudin, while the troops freed four villages in the country's western province of Anbar during the second day of offensive aimed at defeating the extremist group in the country, provincial security sources said.
Backed by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi aircraft, the troops and allied paramilitary Sunni tribal fighters continued their advance toward the IS-held town of Shirqat, some 280 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and managed to free five villages around the town during the day, in addition to seven villages freed during the first day of the offensive, the source from Salahudin Operations Command told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
At least four security members and paramilitary tribal fighters were killed on Wednesday and 12 others wounded, while a civilian was killed and three others wounded when an IS mortar round hit their house at one of the freed villages, the source said.
By the end of the day, the troops took new positions on the edges of the town of Shirqat, and are now stationed about one kilometer away from the central part of the town, where the local government buildings located, he said.
"We expect to free the central part of the town within the coming hours," the source added.
On Tuesday, a military source said the security forces and allied Sunni paramilitary tribal fighters launched at dawn an operation to free Shirqat and advanced toward the town from three directions after heavy artillery and mortar barrage on IS positions.
The liberation of the town, which is the last one under the IS control in Salahudin province, is part of a major offensive to liberate the major IS stronghold in Mosul, the capital of Iraq's northern province of Nineveh.
Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad, is the second largest city in Iraq. It has been under the IS control for more than two years since the extremist group took control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions in June 2014.
Meanwhile, a military source from Iraq's western province of Anbar told Xinhua that the security forces and allied Sunni tribal fighters freed four villages as part of an operation to free sprawling agricultural area of Jazirat Haditha near the town of Haditha, some 200 km northwest of the provincial capital city of Ramadi, and the nearby rural area of Jazirat al-Baghdadi, from IS militants.
The operation in the province came as the Iraqi security forces and allied units are fighting to drive IS militants out of the province after they reclaimed key cities and towns, including the provincial capital of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, the source said.
The operations in the two provinces were launched on Tuesday, just hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launching of the two operations in a televised message from New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.
Iraqi security forces and allied units have been battling IS militants for retaking large territories in northern and western Iraq that was seized by the IS since June 2014.