Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared the town of Tal Afar “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group after a nearly two-week operation, the latest blow to the extremist group which ran nearly a third of the country three years ago.

Iraqi troops “eliminated and smashed Daesh terrorists” in al-Ayadia district, about 10 kilometres northwest of Tal Afar, where the militants fled last week, Haider al-Abadi said in a statement. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

With Tal Afar liberated, all of Nineveh province — the first area IS militants captured in a 2014 blitz — “is in the hands of our brave troops,” al-Abadi said.

“To Daesh criminals we say: Wherever you are we will come to liberate and you have to choose only death or surrender,” he said.


Iraqi forces flash the sign for victory as they advance towards the al-Ayadieh area, north of Tal Afar on Aug. 30, during the ongoing battle to oust the last pockets of Islamic State group jihadists from the area. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi officials often declare areas liberated before the fighting has completely ended, and the militants have been known to carry out surprise counterattacks.

U.S.-backed Iraqis troops launched the operation to retake Tal Afar early last week, a month after it declared the northern city of Mosul, its second largest, to be fully liberated. Tal Afar is about 150 kilometres from Syria’s border and it was among the last IS-held towns in Iraq.

Iraqi forces have driven IS from most of Iraq’s major towns and cities seized by the militants in the summer of 2014, including Mosul, which was retaken after a grueling nine-month campaign.

IS stills control the northern town of Hawija as well as towns in western Iraq near Syria.