Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes blocked a key supply line for the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group with Syria Thursday as they fought to retake the town of Sinjar from the terrorists.
A permanent cut in the supply line would hamper ISIL’s ability to move fighters and supplies between northern Iraq and Syria, where the group occupies significant territory.
Retaking Sinjar – where ISIL carried out a brutal campaign of killings against the Yazidi minority – would also be an important symbolic victory.
In a rare admission, the Pentagon said US troops advising the Kurds on their offensive were close enough to the front to identify ISIL targets and call in air strikes.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters most of the US-led coalition troops are behind the front lines working with Kurdish commanders, but that “there are some advisers who are on Sinjar mountain, assisting in the selection of air strike targets.”
“They’re not directly in the line of action, but they might be able to visibly see it,” he added.
The US-led coalition earlier said Kurdish “Peshmerga units successfully established blocking positions along Highway 47 and began clearing Sinjar,” referring to the main route linking ISIL’s Iraqi hub of Mosul to Syria.
The autonomous Kurdish region’s security council (KRSC) also said that several villages near Sinjar were retaken and that the highway had been cut.
“The attack began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT), and the Peshmerga forces advanced on several axes to liberate the centre of the Sinjar district,” AFP quoted Major General Ezzeddine Saadun as saying.
Huge columns of smoke rose over the town as coalition strikes and Kurdish shelling targeted ISIL positions, it added.
Up to 7,500 Kurdish fighters are to take part in the operation, which aims to cordon off Sinjar, seize ISIL supply routes “and establish a significant buffer zone to protect (it) and its inhabitants from incoming artillery,” the KRSC said.