The US Secretary of Defense arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday, 22 August on an unannounced visit days after the Iraqi government launched a major military campaign to retake the Islamic State (Isis)-controlled city of Tal Afar.

Mattis, a battle-hardened military veteran, is in Iraq to discuss the latest situation on the counterterrorism campaign against the Isis including in Tal Afar. Mattis, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan during his decades-long career, had earlier warned the combat against Isis will not be an easy one.

Mattis is expected to hold discussions with top US commanders posted in the region and also with high-ranking Iraqi authorities. He is joined by the US' special representative to the anti-Isis coalition, Brett McGurk.

The Tal Afar operation, launched on Sunday, 20 August, comes six weeks after the Iraqi forces suffered huge casualties in the nine-month-long battle for Mosul. Located about 80kms west of Mosul, Tal Afar is significantly smaller than Mosul and hosts a major road linking Mosul and the Syrian border. The nine-month-long Mosul campaign was supported by the US forces.

James Mattis Asia trip
Mattis, former Marine general nicknamed 'Mad Dog', arrived in Iraq to discuss anti-Isis operations Jonathan Ernst/Reuters