Iraqi troops reach urban areas of Tal Afar

A video screengrab shows PM Haider al Abadi announcing the start of ops in Tal Afar

United State Defence Secretary Jim Mattis met with his Iraqi counterpart Arfan al-Hayali on Tuesday at Iraq's Ministry of Defence to discuss the role of USA forces in Iraq after the recapture of the remaining cities under Islamic State.

Lt.Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, of the Joint Operations Command and the War Media Cel in Tal Afar, said in a statement the army's elite Counter-Terrorism Service freed Tal Rihal, Jabbara, Hussein Idris, al-Mulla and al-Majeed villages, southwest of the town.

"As we announce the start of operations to liberate Tal Afar, we salute the heroic Iraqi forces who fight to bring victory, freedom and peace", the Prime Minister said in a tweet on Sunday.

Once a key IS supply hub between Mosul - around 70 kilometres (45 miles) further east - and the Syrian border, Tal Afar is the last major population centre in northern Iraq under jihadist control.

The UN estimates that some 10,000 to 40,000 people are still living in Tal Afar and surrounding areas.

IS fighters inside Tal Afar, estimated to number around 1,000, responded with artillery fire Tuesday as Iraqi forces massed outside the city.

The Iraqi army, Federal Police and counterterrorism forces backed by 20,000 fighters from the Popular Mobilization paramilitary group launched the offensive on Tal Afar.

Sadia Sajet from Tal Afar said she walked for over a day to cross the front line and reach Iraqi forces.

"We have won all our battles, and Daesh have always lost", he said, wearing black military fatigues and using an Arabic name for the group.

"These internally displaced persons (IDPs) carried a minimal amount of clothes; some only had what they wore, some were partially clothed", the statement said, adding that thousands more are expected to flee in the coming days.

The US-led coalition providing air and other support to the troops praised what it said was a "capable, formidable, and increasingly professional force".

And it said it was preparing to accommodate almost 30,000 more people displaced from the city in the coming days.

Trump said he won't provide a "blank check" for US support to the Afghan government, but added he didn't want to be hemmed in by timelines.

Mattis declined to make any predictions about the battle.

"So ISIS' days are certainly numbered, but it's not over yet and it's not going to be over any time soon".

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