ISIS takes control of Tal Afar

Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Map created by The Long War Journal. Click to view larger map.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham continues to consolidate its grip on Ninewa after gaining effective control of the northern province during an offensive that began earlier last week. Reuters reports that ISIS fighters took over the northwestern town after heavy fighting:

Residents reached by telephone in the city of Tal Afar said it had fallen to the rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant after a battle which saw heavy casualties on both sides.

“The city was overrun by militants. Severe fighting took place, and many people were killed. Shi’ite families have fled to the west and Sunni families have fled to the east,” said a city official who asked not to be identified.

The Daily Beast reported earlier last week that Kurdish forces took control of the town of Sinjar and the Rabiah border crossing, both which are west of Tal Afar. Some Iraqi forces fleeing an ISIS onslaught in Anbar province attempted to retreat to Tal Afar, but were decimated by the ISIS:

In a desperate bid, an Iraqi Border Patrol battalion stationed along the Syrian border in Anbar province, abandoned their position yesterday to break out to the relative safety of nearby Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The Iraqi unit fled to the town of Sinjar believing that ISIS had made no gains there. But the convoy of sixty trucks and hundreds of border police were thrown into disarray and panic when a small force of ISIS vehicles attacked them en route. By the time Peshmerga forces arrived, the police force had been completely routed–unknown numbers were killed or captured, while others fled into the desert leaving all their vehicles behind. Two were reported to have arrived at Sinjar on foot. The border is said to be completely open south of Sinjar but the Peshmerga are reportedly attempting to construct a barrier south of Sinjar to prevent further ISIS incursions.

Iraqi forces that abandoned Mosul also fled to Tal Afar and attempted to defend the city. The Kurds tried to get the mayor of Tal Afar to “relinquish the heavy weaponry” to keep it from falling into the hands of the ISIS, according to the Daily Beast report:

Residents of Tal Afar are reporting that a large number of the Iraqi forces who deserted from Mosul were Turcoman Shia who made their way west back to their hometown of Tal Afar. Many have augmented local police to establish a city defense force in preparation for an attack by ISIS. Peshmerga forces contacted Tal Afar’s mayor and requested he relinquish the heavy weaponry under his control to prevent it from falling into the hands of ISIS if the city capitulated, but the mayor refused and told them the city would manage its own security. The forces at Tal Afar also took control of the city’s airport–known as FOB Sykes when US forces controlled it–and secured the helicopters stationed there, maintaining a vital air link with Baghdad. While they have a working relationship, the leadership in Tal Afar is reportedly not willing to trust the Peshmerga with the defense of their city and its neighboring villages.

The fall of Tal Afar is a microcosm of the failures of the Iraqi government and security forces that have led to the collapse of Anbar, Ninewa, and parts Salahaddin and Diyala. Political leaders are unwilling to trust each other in order to combat the ISIS, while the military often chooses to run rather that fight.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Charlie says:

    I have trouble buying this report. I spoke to a friend in the Iraqi Army just 6 hours before you posted this; he reported that he was safe in Tal Afar. Time will tell, I suppose.

  • adris says:

    The people of tal afar refused peshmarga’s help so in other words they want ISIS to control them! thats a fact so kurds should stay away only protect their border. same to mosul. the mosul governors was blaffing and said peshmarga must not eneter mosul as result mosul fall into the hnad of isis

  • anan says:

    Adris, the large majority of Tal Afar locals seem to genuinely hate ISIS. The toughest battle the ISF have fought with ISIS to date appears to be the battle at Tal Afar. Because of this, you can bet that ISIS will kill many Tal Afar residents in retribution.
    Bill, might it be possible that 3rd Iraqi Army division and Iraqi Federal Police are still be fighting in parts of Tal Afar? Perhaps not all of Tal Afar has fallen.

  • anan says:

    It appears as if 3rd and 1st IAD along with the tribes are gradually winning the fight in Tal Afar. If the KRG Pesh provide them a logistical supply line, they should be able to gradually expand their areas of control.
    Part of ISIS’ effectiveness is that the international press blindly reports ISIS false propaganda about victories ISIS hasn’t won. 3rd IAD and 4th IAD have not been broken by ISIS as ISIS inspired media initially reported. There are still many pockets in the north holding out against ISIS.


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