Iraqi forces aim to clear border strip with Syria

BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces fighting IS west of Mosul aim to clear a large strip of land on the border with Syria to prevent the militants melting into the remote desert region and using it as a base for counter attacks, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The Popular Mobilisation fighters who form part of a wider Iraqi force waging the eight-week Mosul campaign – have deployed west of the city to cut the route to IS-held territory in Syria.
They have taken an air base south of the town of Tal Afar, about 60 km west of Mosul, and linked up with Kurdish peshmerga fighters to seal off the town’s western flank.
Jafaar Hussaini said the Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the armed groups, would advance further west to clear the border region where he said the militants had hidden many weapons stores for future use.
“The key objective is to make sure that the terrorists lose the ability to regroup and launch counter attacks against advancing forces,” said Hussaini, speaking by telephone from a desert area near Tal Afar.
Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the two main groups fighting west of Mosul. A spokesman for the Badr militia, the other group, said it was targeting villages around Tal Afar to “surround IS and tighten the noose around them”.
While the army advance in east Mosul, where soldiers have been constrained by street-by-street fighting and a built-up urban battlefield, Hussaini said progress in the western region was slow because the Popular Mobilisation forces had to clear dozens of villages scattered over a wide area.
The forces are still 60 km from the frontier with Syria, he said. “We are targeting full control of the desert areas along the Syrian border”. Clearing the remote border region would make it more difficult for IS to continue operating in northern Iraq. — Reuters