Military commanders say Iraqi troops -- backed by heavy air strikes -- have entered the town of Hit controlled by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in western Iraq.
Iraqi forces are clearing IS militants from Hit's northern neighborhoods as they push toward the town center, commanders at the scene said on April 4.
Thousands of local residents fled the town to escape fighting.
In the early morning, the troops began escorting civilians out of Hit. Families were loaded into open trucks by security forces and transferred to a nearby camp.Hundreds more left the town by foot.
Iraqi forces instructed the fleeing residents not to stray from the tire marks to avoid explosives planted by IS.
Iraqi troops, which had begun the operation to retake Hit a week ago, spent hours clearing the territory before their assault.
Iraqi forces estimate more than 20,000 civilians remain trapped inside the town.
Located in western Anbar Province, Hit is strategically important as it sits along an IS supply route linking the extremist militants in Iraq to those in Syria.