BAGHDAD, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi paramilitary units, known as Hashd Shaabi, freed two villages from Islamic State (IS) militants near the town of Tal Afar on Wednesday, while Iraqi aircraft bombarded IS targets in west of the city of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The predominantly Shiite units freed the villages of Sharia and Ain-Tlawi in the west of Tal Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, after sporadic clashes with IS militants, leaving 47 of them killed and destroying 13 booby-trapped cars, a statement from the Hashd Shaabi said.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi F-16 jet fighters carried out six airstrikes on IS positions in and near the IS-held town, destroying four car bomb-making sites and killing 20 militants at a safe house.
The airstrikes also killed dozens more of IS militants at two villages in west of Mosul, Lieutenant General Abdul-Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command said in another statement.
The attacks came as the Iraqi security forces are advancing toward the fringes of the western side of Mosul to drive out IS militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq.
Two days ago, the federal police forces and Counter-Terrorism Service freed the hill of Albu Saif, just south of Mosul airport, after clashes with the IS militants.
The recapture of the strategic hill of Albu Saif is crucial for the Iraqi forces, as the area will give the troops the ability to command IS positions in the southern neighborhoods and inside the airport located on Mosul's southern outskirts.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sunday the start of an offensive to drive extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River which bisects the city.
"We announce the start of a new phase in the operation (We Are Coming Nineveh) to liberate the western side of Mosul," Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, said in a brief televised address, referring to the province of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital city.
Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of the eastern side of Mosul, or the left bank of Tigris, after more than 100 days of fighting against IS militants.
However, the western side of Mosul, with its narrow streets and a heavy population of between 750,000 and 800,000, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces, according to the United Nations estimates.
Mosul, 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.