MOSUL, Iraq, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- A Shiite-led militia has begun the final phase in an offensive to capture all territory west of Mosul, including the city of Tal Afar, in order for the Islamic State to be completely surrounded.
In the Hashd al Shaabi militia's third phase of the offensive, the villages of Um Hajar al Ulyah, Sirwal and Ragrag have so far been captured, which cover an area of nearly 4 square miles, Rudaw reports. The militia on Monday said it freed 300 families from Islamic State capture and "transported them to safe places."
Iraqi government said the Hashd al Shaabi militia would be responsible for recapturing territory west of Mosul from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh. The militia began its efforts on Oct. 29, nearly two weeks after the start of the ground offensive to free Mosul.
Iraqi security forces, aided by the Kurdish Peshmerga, Shiite-militias and a U.S.-led international coalition, have captured most territory east, north and south of Mosul.
In total, Hashd al Shaabi is responsible for capturing about 5,400 square miles of territory from the Islamic State, the militia's spokesman, Ahmad al-Asadi, said.
Asadi said intelligence reports indicate the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is somewhere between Tal Afar and Baaj. Tal Afar is considered strategically important because it is located between Mosul and the Syrian border.
"Hashd al-Shabi units have begun advancing on Tal Afar in the operation's third and final phase," Iraqi army officer Jabbar Hassan told Anadolu Agency. "Supported by Iraqi warplanes, the operation is being coordinated and supervised by the army's Joint Operations Command."
Hassan said the Shiite militia is about 15 miles southeast of Tal Afar. Hashd al Shaabi said it is made up of 140,000 fighters. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered that the Shiite militia not enter Tal Afar, as the Iraqi security forces will be tasked to clear the city from the Islamic State amid fears of Shiite violence against the city's ethnic Turkmen population.