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Aug 23, 2:05 PM EDT

Iraqis cite progress in driving IS from Tal Afar


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AP Photo/Balint Szlanko

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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi forces said Wednesday they have captured two neighborhoods on the edge of the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar.

Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, who commands the operation, said special forces drove the militants from al-Kifah al-Janoubi on the southwestern edge of the town, and that federal police and paramilitary units took al-Kifah al-Shamali in the northwest.

Iraqi leaders often declare areas liberated when some fighting is still underway.

Last month, Iraq declared victory over IS in Mosul, the country's second largest city, after a grueling nine-month campaign. The Tal Afar operation began Sunday, and is aimed at driving IS from one of the last major pockets it controls in Iraq.

As in Mosul, the U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes as well as other forms of support to Iraqi troops, and U.S. and other special forces are operating near the front lines.

British Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, the coalition's deputy commander, said Iraqi forces are off to a "really positive start" and are "closing the noose" around the militants.

"The key is that they've broken into the city," he told Pentagon reporters via videoconference from Baghdad.

The extremist group has lost most of the territory it seized when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, and has also suffered major losses in Syria.

But the coalition estimates that the group still has some 2,000 fighters in Tal Afar and 2,500 in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where U.S.-backed Syrian forces are fighting the group.

---

Associated Press writer Sagar Meghani in Washington contributed to this report.

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