Kurds claim victory over ISIS in bid to retake Sinjar – CNN
Up to 7,500 Peshmergas — the Kurdish military force — backed by coalition air power appeared to quickly overwhelm ISIS fighters.
“Sinjar silo, cement factory, hospital and several public buildings now secured by brave Peshmerga,” the Kurdistan Regional Security Council said on Twitter Friday. “(ISIS) defeated and on the run.”
The Council said to expect an announcement from Iraqi Kurdistan leader Masoud Barzani to announce the success of Operation Free Sinjar.
“This operation has moved perhaps faster than some may have thought,” said CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who is traveling with the troops. “Very few thought on day two they would be inside the city itself . This town appears to be increasingly in the hands of Peshmerga.”
U.S.-backed coalition airstrikes paved the success.
Operation Inherent Resolve said coalition aircraft have conducted more than 250 airstrikes across northern Iraq in the last month. The strikes have reportedly destroyed ISIS fighting positions, command and control facilities, weapon storage facilities, improvised explosive device factories and staging areas.
According to a Pentagon spokesman, U.S. troops are in the field calling in airstrikes from positions in Sinjar.
“The Peshmerga forces are carrying this out with … the support of coalition advisers,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters. “There are U.S. personnel. My understanding is there are coalition advisers from other countries as well.”
Peshmerga and coalition unity
Reclaiming Sinjar is one big step toward dividing the “caliphate” that ISIS claims it is establishing across the region.
The artery that passes through the town — Route No. 47 — links the Iraqi city of Mosul — ISIS’ prized possession — with cities it holds in Syria.
Paton Walsh said the highway was a key goal for the Kurdish fighters, who were equipped with vehicles ranging from pickup trucks to armored Humvees.
On Friday, they had retaken key sections of the highway, cutting off the ISIS supply route around Sinjar.
Taking Sinjar back
Speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he’s confident Sinjar will fall, but was reluctant to say when.
“But I am convinced that Sinjar will be liberated, as we have liberated Tikrit. And currently the Iraqi forces are moving on Ramadi,” he said.
Kerry explained the strategy.
“President Obama, at the very beginning, said we’re going to degrade and defeat ISIL. We’re going to stabilize the countries in the region — Jordan, Lebanon, work with Turkey — and we are going to seek a political settlement,” he said. “That is exactly the strategy today and it is working — to a degree — not as fast as we would like, perhaps, but we are making gains.”
Paton Walsh said the operation to retake Sinjar was important symbolically.
“The Peshmerga here want to show that they can be united with coalition air power, with Western military advisers, who we understand are in their midst here as well, to launch a successful — and they hope brief — offensive towards this town, but also strategically, because of what Sinjar could mean in the future, down the line.”
He said the Kurdish fighters appeared optimistic they would take back Sinjar.
“I think the hope amongst the Peshmerga and the coalition is that the level of manpower they have here, their dominance in the skies, means potentially this could be over in days,” he said. “But with a town of this size which had tens of thousands living in it before — which ISIS has had months to prepare for an onslaught against — this could turn out to be trickier than some are hoping.”
Retired Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst, agreed that the fight in Sinjar would be slow going.
“They’re going to have to slog through this house by house, street by street,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
More than a year under ISIS
The world watched in horror last year as some 50,000 Yazidis, who live in the region, scrambled up Mount Sinjar to escape the ISIS onslaught. About 5,000 men and boys in Sinjar and nearby villages were massacred, according to U.N. estimates, while teenage girls and women were sold into slavery.
Since then, Sinjar has become a chaotic jumble of demolished buildings held by ISIS fighters.
“There is no reliable estimate as to how many civilians still live inside of Sinjar,” Paton Walsh said.
The Peshmerga said they wanted to establish a buffer zone to protect the civilian population, but it was not entirely clear how that would physically work.
With the operation to retake the town looming, some 5,000 Yazidi fighters were mobilized under the command of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Most are farmers; a very few have military experience.
The Yazidis are one of the world’s smallest and oldest monotheistic religious minorities. Their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and the ancient monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism. In ISIS’ eyes, they’re infidels.
The Yazidis and Kurds have lived side by side for thousands of years and are friendly neighbors.
The Kurds are Sunni Muslims, who have their own unique language and culture. They occupy an autonomous region in northern Iraq, but the Kurdish homeland also covers portions of Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Syria.