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Iraqi Kurds retake control of central Sinjar from ISIS

Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting to take back Sinjar from ISIS militants raised a Kurdish flag and fired off celebratory gunfire in the centre of town Friday, though U.S. and Kurdish officials cautioned that it was too soon to declare victory in the effort to retake the community.
Iraqi Kurdish fighters look on as smoke billows during an operation to retake the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Thursday from ISIS. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Kurdish militia fighters fighting to take back Sinjar from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants raised a Kurdish flag and fired off celebratory gunfire in the centre of town Friday, though U.S. and Kurdish officials cautioned that it was too soon to declare victory in a major offensive to retake the strategic community.

The Kurdish forces encountered little resistance, at least initially, suggesting that many of the IS fighters may have pulled back in anticipation of Friday's advance. It was also possible that they could be biding their time before striking back.

Kurdish militia fighters known as peshmerga launched a major offensive to retake Sinjar and succeeded in cutting a key nearby highway on Thursday. U.S.-led coalition airstrikes supported the offensive, dubbed Operation Free Sinjar.

Peshmerga Maj. Ghazi Ali, who oversees one of the units involved in offensive, said thousands of Kurdish fighters entered the town from three directions Friday morning. Associated Press journalists saw them raise a flag over a building in the centre of the city.

They encountered minimal resistance during Friday's push, Ali said. He described the situation in the city as still dangerous, however, and warned that it was too soon to declare victory.

Col. Steven Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, confirmed only that peshmerga fighters raised their flag on grain silos in the eastern part of the town. He said they had not fully retaken Sinjar.

Earlier push failed

There is reason for caution. An earlier attempt to wrest back control of the town, at the foot of Sinjar Mountain about 50 kilometres from the Syrian border, stalled in December. Militants have since been reinforcing their ranks.

The fight to dislodge ISIS militants from the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, meanwhile, took about four months — despite hundreds of U.S. airstrikes in support of the Kurdish fighters.

Islamic State extremists overran Sinjar as they rampaged across Iraq in August 2014, leading to the killing, enslavement and flight of thousands of people from the minority Yazidi community. Its members follow an ancient faith that the Islamic State group considers heretical.

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