Tal Afar sweep makes significant progress, military officials say

Iraqi and U.S. military officials say their troops are making significant progress in their efforts to rid the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar of insurgents and foreign fighters. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Baghdad.

Giving reporters a detailed update of the day-old joint U.S.-Iraqi military operation in Tal Afar, the top spokesman for the multinational forces in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch, says the troops there expect to have the town secured within the next few days.

"We have indeed been able to isolate the insurgents in specific areas of Tal Afar. The thing that we are focused on right now is the district called Sarai. It's about 600 meters by 800 meters in size.

We have been able to, in the last four months, to essentially corner the insurgents, force them into this area, so that we can conduct decisive operations against them at the time and place of our choosing, and those operations are indeed underway as we speak," he said.

Several thousand Iraqi and U.S. troops are said to be involved in the operation, which began Saturday on the orders of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, reports VOA.

According to Financial Times, the town has been the site of several US-led offensives, including an attack last year that was aborted under pressure from neighbouring Turkey, which claims to champion the rights of Iraqi Turcoman.

The US garrison in the area was then sharply reduced, and guerrillas reportedly filtered back in.

Iraqi forces took a high-visibility role in the Tal Afar fighting, reportedly leading house-to-house searches while the Americans provided support.

However, some residents of the town have criticised the conduct of largely Shia Arab government forces, and the mayor reportedly resigned in protest at a "sectarian" operation targeting Sunni Arab neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police in Basra said one British soldier was killed and two were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy, the latest incident in an upsurge of violence in the predominantly Shia southern Iraqi city.