Baghdad, Aug 15 (AFP) Iraqi warplanes carried out air strikes today against Islamic State group positions in Tal Afar in preparation for a ground assault to retake the town near the Syrian border, the military said.

Tal Afar is the main remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, after the capture by Iraqi forces in July of second city Mosul further east in a major blow to the jihadists.

“Preparations are under way pending instructions from the commander in chief (Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi)” for the launch of the assault, said a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operation Command (JOC).

The spokesman, Yahiya Rassul, said that although the main offensive to retake Tal Afar had not yet begun, the air force was pounding jihadist positions in the town.

Plans to retake Tal Afar were announced yesterday by federal police chief Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, who said “armoured and elite units” were headed for the town.

The units, whose number has not been specified, were “regrouping in combat positions in preparation for the next battle,” he said in a statement.

Joining them is the Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shiite-dominated coalition of paramilitary units deployed since 2014 to halt the jihadist advance.

“Hashed al-Shaabi commanders met Saturday with army and police commanders to decide on the plan to free Tal Afar,” spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said.

Abadi is expected to announce the launch of the ground assault but there are no indications on when it is due to start.

JOC said the defence minister today sacked his official spokesman, Brigadier Genereal Mohammed al-Khodari, for having erroneously announced the start of the operation.

Khodari had told a local television by telephone that the ground assault on Tal Afar had been launched but his remarks were quickly denied by several military officials.

IS jihadists overran Tal Afar in June 2014, when it had a population of around 200,000. (AFP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.