(New York Times) An airstrike left a crater the size of a tennis court in one neighborhood. Artillery punched a gaping hole in the minaret of the city’s main mosque. Some buildings were leveled.
But in the hard calculus of the war against ISIS terrorist group, which was evicted from Tal Afar this week after three years of occupation, that was good news.
The majority of Tal Afar’s structures are still standing, even if many have been defaced. Compared with the wholesale destruction in the battle to retake Mosul, where the worst-hit neighborhoods resemble the landscape after a 7.0-magnitude quake, the smaller city to the north is largely intact — even if it may still take months to repair the scarred masonry, cover up craters and sweep aside the detritus left by ISIS fighters, including their graffiti of death.
The speed of the victory — 11 days compared with nine months for Mosul — is partly responsible for the comparatively limited damage.
Military commanders said that — unlike in Mosul — they had encircled the city but left an opening in the security cordon, intentionally creating an escape corridor for the trapped fighters, who they hoped would flee into the open desert where they could be picked off.
“I thought I would find my house demolished,” said Mohammed Wahab, a soldier from Tal Afar who returned to his hometown for the first time on Friday, three years after having fled ISIS advance.
The soldier described the utter destruction he had witnessed in Mosul, which was retaken from ISIS after grueling house-to-house combat. He had fretted that Tal Afar would face the same fate.
He headed to his neighborhood with trepidation, he said. When he walked inside his home, he found that ISIS fighters had punched a man-size hole in the living room wall, a tactic to allow them to move from house to house undetected by aerial surveillance.