Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by US-led coaltion war planes, have launched a major offensive to retake the strategic town of Sinjar in northern Iraq from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters.
A statement from the Kurdish Regional Security Council on Thursday said about 7,500 Peshmerga fighters were closing in on the mountain town from three fronts in an effort to cut off ISIL supply lines.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the city of Irbil, said US-led coalition warplanes bombed ISIL positions in the region on Wednesday evening, ahead of what Kurdish officials called “Operation Free Sinjar”.
“What we are hearing is that a number of air strikes have taken place before the offensive began on the ground in the early hours of Thursday. Kurdish Peshmerga troops and Yazidi militias have moved towards the central area under ISIL control,” Khan said.
“They say this will be the definitive operation to take the mountain, which is likely to take at least a few weeks. We have seen the Kurdish Peshmerga try this before, but they were pushed back by ISIL for a variety of reasons. But with the coalition getting involved with air strikes, this may well be the final push.”
Sinjar Mountain was overrun by ISIL in August last year in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Kurdish-speaking Yazidis and first prompted the US to launch air strikes against ISIL.
The group launched a wave of attacks against the minority Yazidi community, members of an ancient religion whom ISIL views as heretics and accuses of worshipping the devil.
The Yazidis fled into the mountains where ISIL fighters surrounded them, trapping and exposing them to the blazing heat.
The crisis prompted the US to launch air drops of aid, and on August 8 it began its first round of air strikes in what would mark the beginning of a broader coalition effort to battle the group in Iraq and Syria.
Various Kurdish militias on the town’s edge have been fighting guerrilla battles for months against ISIL fighters in Sinjar.
The factions include the Turkey-based Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the Syria-based People’s Protection Units – better known as the YPG – and Yazidi-led forces calling themselves the Sinjar Resistance.
Iraqi Peshmerga have also held positions further outside the town.
The plethora of groups makes the operation to retake the area complex, as they disagree on who will control the area after ISIL is defeated. Al Jazeera