World

Kurds capture road in push to retake Iraqi town of Sinjar from ISIS

Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by the U.S.-led air campaign, launched an assault Thursday aiming to retake the strategic town of Sinjar, which the Islamic State group overran last year.

About 7,500 peshmerga fighters said to be closing in on Sinjar from three fronts

Heavy smoke billows from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar during an operation by Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led strikes on Thursday, to retake the town from the Islamic State group. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by the U.S.-led air campaign, launched an assault Thursday aiming to retake the strategic town of Sinjar, which the Islamic State group overran last year in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Yazidis and first prompted the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the militants.

Hours into the operation, the Kurdish Regional Security Council said forces were in control of a section of Highway 47, of one of IS's most active supply lines, completely isolating Sinjar from militant strongholds in Syria and northern Iraq. The Kurdish fighters also said they had secured the villages of Gabarra, on the western front, and Tel Shore, Fadhelya and Qen on the eastern front.

Some 7,500 peshmerga fighters were closing in on Sinjar from three fronts, the security council said in a statement. In addition to taking the town and the highway, Operation Free Sinjar aimed to establish "a significant buffer zone to protect the city and its inhabitants from incoming artillery."

Heavy gunfire broke out early Thursday as peshmerga fighters began their approach amid aerial bombardment. An Associated Press team saw a small American unit at the top of a hill along the front line calling in and confirming airstrikes.

The coalition said 24 airstrikes were carried out over the past day, striking nine militant tactical units, nine staging areas and destroying 27 fighting positions, among other targets.

Taken in 2014

"(Peshmerga) troops are holding their position, waiting for reinforcements and more airstrikes so they can then move into the centre of the town. Airstrikes have been very important to the operation getting to the point where it is now," said Maj. Gen. Seme Busal, commander of one of the front lines.

Sinjar was captured by the Islamic State group in August 2014 shortly after the extremists seized Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and blitzed across northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdish forces take part in an operation to take back the Iraqi town of Sinjar on Thursday from ISIS. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

The major objective of the offensive is to completely cut off Highway 47, which passes by Sinjar and indirectly links the militants' two biggest strongholds — Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq — as a route for goods, weapons and fighters. Coalition-backed Kurdish fighters on both sides of the border are now working to retake parts of that corridor.

"If you take out this major road, that is going to slow down the movement of (IS's quick reaction force) elements," Capt. Chance McCraw, a military intelligence officer with the U.S. coalition, told journalists Wednesday. "If they're trying to move from Raqqa over to Mosul, they're going to have to take these back roads and go through the desert, and it's going take hours, maybe days longer to get across."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now