BAGHDAD, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday declared the start of an operation to retake control of the northern town Tal Afar from Islamic State (IS) militants.
"We announce the launch of an operation to liberate Tal Afar. I say to Daesh (IS militants) -- either you surrender or die," Abadi said in a televised speech.
"As we announce the start of the operation to liberate Tal Afar we salute the heroic Iraqi forces who fight to bring victory, freedom and peace," Abadi said.
Meanwhile, General Abdul Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command, said in a separate statement that the troops, backed by Iraqi and international aircraft, "are destroying the IS defensive lines as they advance from several directions toward the town."
Tal Afar, some 70 km west of the newly-liberated city of Mosul, is the last IS redoubt in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh. The town and surrounding areas are inhabited by some 350,000 people, whose majority is Sunni and Shiite Turkomans, in addition to the minority of Kurds and other minorities.
Most of Tal Afar's population left their homes in the town either by the sectarian strife during the years after 2003, or after the town fell to the IS in 2014.