The Iraqi military says it has retaken control of a border crossing with Syria from the ISIS terrorist group.
Tribal forces and border police, supported by Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft, took part in the operation to take the al-Waleed crossing, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement Saturday.
Al-Waleed fell to ISIS group in 2015, giving the militants full control of the Iraq-Syria border, which they vowed to erase as part of their ambition to build a caliphate.
In recent months the militants have been coming under increasing pressure in the country’s western deserts from government forces.
Al-Waleed is close to Tanf, a strategic Syrian border crossing with Iraq on the Baghdad-Damascus highway, where US forces have assisted Syrian rebels trying to recapture territory from ISIS.
US forces have been based at Tanf since last year, in effect preventing Iranian-backed forces backing head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad from receiving heavy weaponry from Iran by using the main highway between Iraq and Syria.
The involvement of Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters in the operation to dislodge the militants from al-Waleed is another indication that Iran will not yet be able to use the highway.
In Mosul, where a US-backed offensive against ISIS on Saturday entered its ninth month, the militants have been squeezed into an enclave on the western bank of the Tigris river. ISIS also controls territory along the border with Syria and urban pockets west and south of Mosul.
About 100,000 civilians remain trapped in harrowing conditions behind ISIS lines in Mosul, with little food, water and medicine and limited access to hospitals, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
ISIS snipers are shooting at families trying to flee on foot or by boat across the Tigris River, as part of a tactic to keep civilians as human shields, it said.
Iraqi government forces regained eastern Mosul in January, then a month later began the offensive on the western side that includes the Old City, a dense maze of narrow alleyways where fighting is mainly done house by house.
The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” that ISIS leader Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi declared in a speech from an historic mosque in the Old City three years ago, covering parts of Iraq and Syria.
About 200,000 people were estimated to be trapped behind ISIS lines in Mosul in May, but the number has declined as government forces have thrust further into the city.
About 800,000 people, more than a third of the pre-war population of the northern Iraqi city, have fled, seeking refuge with friends and relatives or in camps.