Iraq Kurds prepare to move into Sinjar in anti-IS drive

Iraqi forces  in defence-defenceweb

Iraqi forces in defence-defenceweb

Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes and ground spotters were Friday preparing to move into Sinjar in a major operation to retake the town from the Islamic State group, officials said.

The operation, which is led by the autonomous Kurdish region’s peshmerga forces and also involves fighters from the Yazidi minority that has been brutally targeted by IS, succeeded in cutting a key jihadist supply line through the town to neighbouring Syria on Thursday.

“Our brave forces will enter the town and teams of engineers will clear IEDs,” the Kurdish region’s security council (KRSC) said, referring to improvised explosive devices.

“The final objective — to enter and clear (Sinjar) — will be underway soon.”

Yazidi military leader Qassem Shesho told AFP that all the main routes into Sinjar had been closed, and that teams of sappers were working to clear explosives planted by IS — one of the jihadists’ deadliest tactics.

Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against IS, told AFP that: “Today, they’ll continue the attack… and they’re gonna push on closer to Sinjar.”

Sinjar is “essentially cut off, either by actual personnel or by fires,” Warren said, referring to US-led air strikes.

In a rare admission on Thursday, the Pentagon said US troops advising the Kurds on their offensive were close enough to the front to identify IS targets and call in 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.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces cut a key highway through Sinjar that links the jihadists’ Iraq and Syria strongholds Mosul and Raqa.

A permanent cut in the supply line would hamper IS’s ability to move fighters and supplies between northern Iraq and Syria, where the jihadists hold significant territory and have declared a “caliphate”.

“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,” said Warren.

IS overran Sinjar in August last year, forcing thousands of Yazidis to flee to the mountains overlooking the town, where they were trapped by the jihadists.

The United Nations has described the attack as a possible genocide, and on Thursday the US Holocaust Memorial Museum echoed that claim in a report detailing allegations of rape, torture and murder by IS against the minority.

Aiding the Yazidis, whose unique faith Sunni Muslim group IS considers heretical, was one of Washington’s main justifications for starting its air campaign against the jihadists last year.

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