BAGHDAD, May 26 (UPI) -- Iraqi security forces have seized the town of Karma out of the clutches of the Islamic State as fighting for control of the city of Fallujah intensifies.
Karma is about 10 miles northeast of Fallujah. The majority of territory east of Fallujah is now under the control of the Iraqi government and its allies.
In a statement on Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the "liberation of al-Karma" as he congratulated the people of Iraq and ordered security forces to protect civilians.
"We are all united to liberate Fallujah and save its people from the terror of ISIS," Abadi later said using an alternate acronym for the militant group. The recapture of Fallujah could take weeks or months as there are many landmines surrounding the city.
The Iraqi security forces' offensive to retake Fallujah, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, began on Monday. The offensive is joined by Iraqi counter-terrorism forces, Iraqi police, tribal fighters and the Popular Mobilization Forces Shiite militia group. Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control since early 2014.
"We retook this area two days ago, then we pushed ahead and arrived in Karma," an Iraqi Army commander said, EURONews reported. "There were concrete walls built by the extremists. We broke them down and drove the enemy out. They are now using rocket shells and snipers to resist our advance but we believe we will soon recapture Fallujah."
The Islamic State has reportedly killed civilians as they attempted to flee the city. The U.N. refugee agency has set up camps near Fallujah to accommodate escaping families. Fleeing families have reported that the Islamic State has used civilian hostages as human shields.
The city, once populated by about 300,000 people, is now home to about 100,000 after years of war. The United Nations warns that residents face starvation due to food shortages and high prices.