Iraqi troops advance against ISIS in Tal Afar

Iraqi forces are making gains in their ongoing push to expel fighters from the Islamic State from the northern city of Tal Afar as the Pentagon chief made a surprise visit to Iraq in a show of support.

The joint Iraqi forces took control of al-Jazirah area, on the eastern side of Tal Afar, as troops and members of the Popular Mobilization forces started heading towards the city center.

ISIL fighters, estimated to number up to 1,000, reportedly responded with artillery fire, as government forces massed outside the city.

The city has been under ISIL control since 2014.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, on a whistlestop tour of Iraq, said the defeat of ISIS is now imminent and he is confident US-backed Iraqi forces will finish off fighters in their last remaining strongholds in the country.

“ISIS is on the run and they have been shown to be unable to stand up to our team, have not retaken one inch of ground,” he told reporters during a briefing in Bagdhad.