Kurdish forces and Yazidi fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have launched an offensive to seize back the strategically important Iraqi border town of Sinjar from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
On Thursday night, Reuters quoted the Kurdistan regional security council as saying that the Kurdish peshmerga fighters “expect to enter and clear the northern Iraqi town,” which is strategically important to ISIS because it is near the border with Syria and therefore helps the terrorists maintain a cross-border territory for their so-called Islamic Caliphate.
The Kurdish troops have seized nearly 60 square miles from the jihadist group, which left dozens of bodies of its fighters behind as it fled from parts of Sinjar, added the Iraqi Kurdistan council.
Reuters noted that it “could not independently confirm this account but Kurdish commanders near the frontline seemed confident and morale among fighters was high.”
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, assisted by coalition airstrikes, reportedly reached the town from the east and west.
In a statement issued Thursday, the regional council said an estimated 7,500 Peshmerga fighters were closing in on Sinjar in an effort to cut off ISIS supply lines, reports Al Jazeera.
The Kurdish-majority force was joined by Yazidi fighters who were seeking revenge against ISIS for the murder, enslavement, and rape of thousands of members of their religious minority community carried by the jihadist group when it overran the town last year, notes The New York Times.
According to the Times, the anti-ISIS force cut off Highway 47, the main road the jihadists were using as a supply line.
Reuters explains, “The Kurds launched the operation in the early morning designed to cordon off Sinjar, take control of strategic routes and establish a buffer zone to protect the town from artillery.”
The wave of atrocities that ISIS committed against the Yazidis led the Obama administration to increase its use of airstrikes against the terrorist group, notes the Times, “and it was with heavy American airstrikes that the fight to retake Sinjar began in the early morning hours of Thursday.”
Kurdish and Yazidi fighters “raced toward an important supply road, Highway 47, coming from different directions to try to cut off as many as 700 Islamic State militants believed to be waiting in and around Sinjar, flanked by thick fields of improvised bombs,” adds the report.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, while briefing reporters Thursday, predicted that the fight to reconquer Sinjar, where many of the townspeople are members of the Yazidi minority, would not be an easy task.
“A victory in Sinjar could give the Kurds, government forces and Shi’ite militias critical momentum in efforts to defeat Islamic State, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria and has affiliates in Libya and Egypt,” points out Reuters.
“So far the Kurds have captured several villages and taken up positions along Highway 47, a supply route between Raqqa in Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul, the main Islamic State bastions,” it adds.
The U.S.-led coalition has dubbed the offensive “Operation Free Sinjar,” saying it is intended to clear the town of ISIS and seize portions of Highway 47.
“The ground assault began in the early morning hours of Nov. 12, when Peshmerga units successfully established blocking positions along Highway 47 and began clearing Sinjar,” said U.S. Central Command (Centcom), which oversees the war efforts against ISIS, in a statement. “The Peshmerga will continue operations to re-establish government control over key portions of the area.”
“The Iraqi Security Forces, including the Peshmerga, continue to put pressure on [ISIS] across Iraq, including in Ramadi, Bayji, and now Sinjar and along Highway 47,” added Col. Christopher C. Garver, a coalition spokesman. “This operation will degrade [ISIS’] resupply efforts, disrupt funding to the terrorist group’s operations, stem the flow of [ISIS] fighters into Iraq, and further isolate Mosul from Ar Raqqah.”
An American military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that “the U.S. expectation is that it would take two to four days to secure Sinjar and another week to finalize clearing operations.”
“U.S. military advisers are with Kurdish commanders near Sinjar mountain but are positioned well back from the fighting,” indicated a U.S. military spokesman.
However, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren also told Reuters that “some U.S. advisers were also on Sinjar mountain working with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to advise and assist with the development of targets for air strikes.”
So far, according to the U.S. military, between 60 and 70 ISIS fighters have been killed in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes linked to the offensive.