Kurdish fighters supported by American airstrikes have recaptured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State militants.
Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani made the announcement Friday.
The U.S.-backed coalition had not yet discussed the operation. But witnesses told the Associated Press that Kurdish forces, also known as Peshmerga fighters, were in control of the center of Sinjar.
The battle to retake the town started on Thursday after more than one week of daily airstrikes by the U.S.
The Islamic State group had captured the town of mostly ethnic Yazidis from Iraqi government forces last year. The group’s attack on the Yazidi minority led to the first of more than 5,000 U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State.
On Thursday, Kurdish officials said the Peshmerga fighters controlled villages on either side of Sinjar and the important Highway 47 between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. The Islamic State (IS) group uses the highway to transport weapons, supplies and illicit oil to fund its operations.
Colonel Christopher Garver is a spokesman for the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force against the Islamic State. He said that the operation would disrupt “funding for [IS] operations, stem the flow of its fighters into Iraq and further isolate Mosul from Raqqa.”
About 7,500 fighters took part in the battle to retake Sinjar. A military advisor to the Kurdish prime minister’s office said local residents have joined the fight. They want to establish a safe area to protect civilians.
Progress in the fight against the Islamic State militant
Jan Kubis is the top UN official in Iraq. Earlier on Wednesday, he told the UN Security Council that Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militias have made some progress in the fight against the militant group. He said, “The pro-government forces have proven their ability to conduct military operations in several areas simultaneously.”
The UN envoy believed that “morale of the fighting forces is high, on the side of the government, and they are able now to register successes.” He added that more operations are planned in Anbar province.
He warned, however, that the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, is far from defeated. “ISIL continues to possess the funding and military capacities to prolong its reign of terror over large swaths of Iraq,” he said.
James Denselow is with the London-based Foreign Policy Center. He said, “What we see is a slow, painful but incremental progress pushing back [Islamic State].”
Some former military officials doubt the latest offensive will damage the Islamic State’s operations.
Former U.S. Navy commander Christopher Harmer is a naval expert at the Institute of the Study of War. He warns that the Islamic state is “retrenching” after spreading its forces too thinly by expanding into Yazidi and Kurdish territory.
Harmer said, “When they lose peripheral territory, like Sinjar, or Kobani, or even Hasakah, that is important but does not reduce the ability of ISIS to function as a significant destabilizing force in Syria or Iraq.”
Life under Islamic State rule
The Islamic State began its offensive in Iraq last year. The group seized at least one third of the country. More than three million civilians were displaced.
Thousands of Iraqis and Syrians are seeking safety by making the dangerous trip to Europe over land or by sea.
The latest UN report on Iraq expressed concern about the militants’ abuses of civilians. These include killings, kidnappings, rape, torture, forced recruitment of children and looting. The group is also believed to hold captive about 1,500 women and children from the minority Yazidi community.
The UN says more than 8.6 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance.
I’m Mario Ritter.
This story is based on reports from Ken Bredemeier, Mike Richman, Chris Hannas, Margaret Besheer, and Ed Yeranian.
Words in This Story
Illicit –adj. something not allowed by law
Disrupt –v. to interfere with something
Simultaneously –adv. taking place at the same time as something else
reign of terror –n. a period when a person or group commits violent acts against many people and causes widespread fear
swaths –n. a long wide strip of land
incremental –adj. change taking place in small steps over time
peripheral –adj. at the edges of something, not in the center
destabilizing –adj. causing to be unable to work in the usual or desired way