BAGHDAD, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces Friday recaptured up to 45 villages as part of a large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State (IS) militants from their hideouts in the desert in western Iraq, the Iraqi military said.
The Iraqi army, paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades and federal police retook control of the villages as they cleared some 2,400 square kilometers of the extremist militants on the second day of the second phase of the offensive, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Rasheed Yarallah, commander of western Iraq operations, said in a brief statement.
The troops destroyed two car bomb making sites, five booby-trapped vehicles and two vehicles carrying heavy machine guns, along with detonating and defusing more than 450 explosive devices, Yarallah said.
On Thursday, Yarallah announced the launch of the second phase of the offensive with the aim of dislodging IS militants from their hideouts in the vast desert near the border with Syria, which extends to the Sunni heartland in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, Salahudin Province north of the capital Baghdad, and the western province of Anbar.
On the first day of the offensive, the troops cleared 77 villages in an area of more than 5,800 square kilometers, along with seizing a bridge and a small airbase in the south of Hatra area, some 60 southwest of Mosul, according to Yarallah.
The forces ended the first phase of the offensive on Nov. 17, when they drove IS militants from their last urban stronghold in Iraq and raised the Iraqi flag over buildings in the city of Rawa and nearby border areas north of the Euphrates River.
The IS seized large swathes of territory in Iraq in 2014. After three years of fierce fighting, Iraqi forces have retaken most of the occupied areas, including Iraq's second largest city Mosul.