MOSUL, Iraq, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Hashd al Shaabi Shiite-led militia said it took control of a strategic airport from the Islamic State in the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul.
Iraqi security forces will use the airport as a base to combat the Islamic State as the ground offensive to capture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, continues. Tal Afar is about 43 miles west of Mosul.
"The Tal Afar airport has fallen militarily to our forces after the liberation of Tal Ramh village, which is 2 kilometers [0.62 miles] away from the airport," the Hashd al Shaabi militia said in a statement Wednesday, later adding that it was clearing the airport of any IS militants in hiding, according to Rudaw.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command confirmed the militia's capture of the airport but 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.
The 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 140,000-strong 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. Tal Afar is considered strategically important because it is located between Mosul and the Syrian border.