BAGHDAD – Kurdish Iraqi forces launched a major operation Wednesday to retake the militant-held town of Sinjar in northern Iraq, part of a push to secure the road that leads directly to the Syrian border.
Peshmerga forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, moved into the town, which has been under the control of the Islamic State group since August, a statement from the Kurdish Regional Security Council said.
Peshmerga fighters have worked for months to push back the militant group, which has declared a self-styled Islamic state ruled by its brutal religious views in territory it seized across much of Iraq and Syria. Peshmerga forces said in September that they would focus on Sinjar after liberating the nearby towns of Rabia, Mahmoudiya and Zumar.
Tens of thousands of Sinjar residents, mainly those from the minority Yazidi group, fled into the mountains in August when the militant group captured the town, then became stranded there for more than two weeks after it was surrounded. Many were eventually airlifted off the mountain or escorted to a safe passageway.
Kurdish television showed images of peshmerga fighters in the mountains cutting off the road that leads from Rabia to the militant-held cities of Mosul and Tal Afar.
The peshmerga had achieved a string of victories on their own with the help of U.S. airstrikes and recently deployed in small numbers to help Syrian Kurds battling the Islamic State group in Kobani. The peshmerga also recently worked alongside Iraqi security forces and militia fighters to retake the towns of Julula and Saadiyah in eastern Iraq.