BASHIQA, Iraq – In normal times, the large town of Bashiqa, some 10 miles north of Mosul, has a population of 150,000 people. But these are not normal times. For the past two and a half years the town and the few residents who hadn't fled had been run by a couple hundred blood-thirsty ISIS militants.
But no more. Beginning Monday, crack waves of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been driving the militants out. Some 130 terrorists have been killed or captured in this week alone. Twenty suicide bombers and fighters tried to make a break Thursday. They either blew themselves up or were killed by Kurdish fighters.
“They were desperate,” Peshmerga Operations Officer Farhang Afandi told us. “They were encircled in a vast area. We’re happy none of them got away.”
In the background, as we conducted our interview high above the town at a Peshmerga fighting position, there was the sound of explosions. Not more fighting. That job is nearly done. But they were controlled detonations of bombs, booby traps and IEDs left by the terrorists and found by the Kurds.
They were also finding and sealing up a network of tunnels constructed by ISIS and dug, we learned, often by forced labor from the town. The underground network was used as ambush locations for the militants, even into this week.
The fight was necessary because Bashiqa was the last major town the Kurdish forces needed to take back in their phase of the anti-ISIS battle. The seizing of the town cuts off an important transport route in and out of Mosul. While there have been casualties on the Kurdish side, they have been low in recent days.
Even in this far- flung location, though, the Washington “changing of the guard” is on the fighters’ minds here.
The Kurds believe the Obama administration did not get their fighting men and women enough weaponry and equipment. They are hoping the future Donald Trump administration will.
“I really hope he is going to be a little different,” Peshmerga officer Afandi told me, “and he’s going to support the cause.”
The residents of Bashiqa are not expected to be able to return to the savaged town for a long time to come. The challenge for this region will remain as well - for the people here, for the tough Kurdish defenders…and the President-elect himself.