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Photos show what's left of Sinjar after airstrikes drive out ISIS

Kurdish forces recaptured Sinjar town from ISIS militants after two days of heavy, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. With the dust still settling, journalists and former residents pick through the devastation after ISIS was driven from the town.

With dust settling, Yazidi residents of the town cautiously return to pick up the pieces

Kurdish peshmerga forces stand in the street in the town of Sinjar on Nov. 16. Once home to about 200,000 people, the town is largely deserted. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)

Operation Free Sinjar

Kurdish forces, with the aid of massive U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, liberated the town of Sinjar from the grips of ISIS last week, giving journalists and former residents a rare chance to pick through the pieces of the once ethnically diverse town.

After the air assault, peshmerga fighters launched a major ground offensive dubbed Operation Free Sinjar, raising the Kurdish flag near the centre of town on Nov. 13.

Peshmerga soldiers entering Sinjar were met with burning tires set ablaze days earlier by ISIS fighters. The acrid, black smoke was meant to hinder coalition jets from picking off targets on the ground. (John Moore/Getty) (John Moore/Getty)

Burning and looting

Before it was overrun by ISIS, Sinjar (about 50 kilometres from the Syrian border) and its surrounding villages was home to about 200,000 mainly Kurdish and Arab Muslims — a rare mix of Sunni and Shia — as well as Christians and Yazidis.

Families from the nearby ISIS-controlled village of Ghabosyeh rest while fleeing their homes on Nov. 16. About 1,000 villagers fled north to Kurdish-held territory near Sinjar to take refuge in camps or follow other refugees to Turkey or Europe. (John Moore/Getty)
Yazidis who returned to Sinjar after the town's ISIS occupiers were driven out left the devastated city with carloads of looted belongings. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)

Now the town is largely deserted

Although many former locals celebrated the victory, Sinjar lay in complete ruins. Local Yazidis, some of whom fought with Kurdish forces for the town, picked any salvageable items out of the rubble and left because the front line is still too close to make the town livable.

A volunteer Yazidi fighter who joined the Kurdish peshmerga forces poses for a photograph in the bombed-out remains of Sinjar on Nov. 16. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters) (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)
After the battle for Sinjar, Kurdish peshmerga forces carefully screened returning Iraqis fearing enemy infiltrators and suicide bombers. (John Moore/Getty)

Yazidis strike back

ISIS 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, whose members follow an ancient faith that ISIS considers heretical.

Thousands of Yazidi Kurdish women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery and forced to marry ISIS militants, according to Human Rights organizations, Yazidi activists and observers. (John Moore/Getty)

Sinjar a significant but tenuous victory

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

Smoke from an airstrike billows over Sinjar on Nov. 12. Commanders on the ground say ISIS forces largely withdrew during a pause in the air campaign. (Bram Janssen/AP)

ISIS occupiers fled between airstrikes

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, U.S. President Barack Obama pointed to the liberation of Sinjar as evidence the air campaign is making progress. Chipping away at ISIS from the air, a strategy endorsed by the president's top security advisers but doubted by many in Congress, is based on the belief that a heavier, boots-on-the-ground approach would yield only a short-lived victory without stronger local armies maintaining stability.

A journalist observes as smoke rises over Sinjar from oil fires set by ISIS militants as Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, launch a major assault on Nov. 12. The strategic town was overrun last year by ISIS, forcing of tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee and prompting the United States to launch the air campaign against the militants. (Bram Janssen/Associated Press)

Equal partners, for now

U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles taxi at an air base in Turkey on Nov. 12 following a bombing run. The United States has six of the fighter jets deployed in support of counter-ISIS missions in Iraq and Syria. 

Canada also has six CF-18 fighters taking part, but not for long, according to an announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the recent G20 summit. ​Trudeau remains committed to a campaign promise to withdraw our warplanes from the mission.

U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles taxi on a runway after landing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, on Nov. 12. Six F-15Es are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and counter-ISIS missions in Iraq and Syria. (Tech. Sgt. Taylor Worley/USAF/Reuters)

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