Iraq Kurds backed by US-led strikes launch major offensive to retake Sinjar from IS
12 November 2015, Nirapad News: Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led strikes launched a major operation Thursday to retake the town of Sinjar from the Islamic State group and cut a key supply line to Syria.
Severing the supply line would hamper the jihadists’ ability to move fighters and supplies between northern Iraq and Syria, two countries where IS has overrun significant territory.
And retaking Sinjar — where IS carried out a brutal campaign of killings, enslavement and rape against the Yazidi religious minority — would also be an important symbolic victory.
“The attack began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT), and the (Kurdish) peshmerga forces advanced on several axes to liberate the centre of the Sinjar district,” Major General Ezzeddine Saadun told AFP.
Columns of smoke rose over the town from US-led coalition strikes and Kurdish shelling against IS positions in Sinjar, an AFP journalist said.
Peshmerga Major General Hashem Seetayi said that Kurdish forces had regained multiple villages north of Sinjar.
The autonomous Kurdish region’s security council said up to 7,500 Kurdish fighters would take part in the operation, which aims to retake Sinjar “and establish a significant buffer zone to protect the (town) and its inhabitants from incoming artillery.”
“Coalition warplanes will provide close air support to peshmerga forces throughout the operation,” it said.
The US-led coalition carried out six strikes in the Sinjar area on Tuesday, and five more across the border in Syria’s Al-Hol area.
Kurdish forces face an estimated 300 to 400 jihadists in the town, Captain Chance McCraw, a US military intelligence officer, told journalists in Baghdad.
But it is not just the jihadist fighters they will have to contend with: IS has had more than a year to build up networks of bombs, berms and other obstacles in Sinjar.
“This is part of the isolation of Mosul,” Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against IS, said of the battle for Sinjar, referring to the jihadists’ main hub in northern Iraq.
– ‘Critical resupply route’ –
“Sinjar sits astride Highway 47, which is a key and critical resupply route” linking Mosul with Syria, Warren said in Baghdad.
“By seizing Sinjar, we’ll be able to cut that line of communication, which we believe will constrict (IS’s) ability to resupply themselves, and is a critical first step in the eventual liberation of Mosul.”
The fact that the Sinjar operation comes at the same time as others against IS in Iraq and Syria also increases pressure on the group.
“It paralyses the enemy, right — he’s gotta make very tough decisions now on who does he reinforce,” Warren said.
In conjunction with the Sinjar operation, fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces group are battling IS across the border in the Al-Hol area.
And Syrian regime forces broke a year-long IS siege of a military air base in the country’s north on Tuesday with backing from Russian air strikes.
After seizing Mosul and driving south toward Baghdad in a disastrously effective offensive in June 2014, IS again turned its attention to northern Iraq, pushing Kurdish forces back toward their regional capital Arbil.
IS overran the Sinjar area in August 2014, attacking Yazidis in what the United Nations has described as a possible genocide.
Thousands of Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar, which overlooks the town, and were trapped there by IS.
Aiding them was one of Washington’s main justifications for starting its air campaign against IS last year.
International forces are also advising and training Iraqi forces, and American troops took part in a joint raid with the peshmerga last month in which a US soldier was killed.
With support from international strikes, Kurdish forces have managed to regain significant ground from IS, and have been positioned on Mount Sinjar at the edge of town for months, with as little as 50 metres (yards) separating them from the militants.
But they had been concerned that retaking Sinjar would require a major deployment beyond it to protect it from artillery fire.
“That’s absolutely been addressed… There are enemy forces in towns south of Sinjar. We’re gonna isolate those with fires,” said Warren, referring to strikes.