19 Dec 2014

Kurdish fighters ‘break Islamic State siege’ at Sinjar

Kurdish peshmerga forces fight back Islamic State militants from Mount Sinjar on the borders of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, freeing hundreds of Yazidis trapped by IS.

The assault was backed by US air strikes and ended the ordeal for hundreds of people from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, who had been besieged since August.

The peshmerga fighters began their offensive on 17 December, recapturing 700 sq km over the course of two days.

Fighter planes carried out 45 strikes in support of the offensive, with two more targeted near Sinjar.

About 8,000 Kurdish peshmerga ground troops launched a two-pronged attack which opened a wide enough area to enable Yazidis to escape.

The Yazidis are expected to be transported out of the area on Friday.

The peshmerga have yet to re-take the town of Sinjar itself, but the freeing of the Yazidis is seen as a victory after Kurds were routed by IS this summer.

Yazidi rescue

US President Barack Obama was pressed into action by the plight of the Yazidis.

The peshmerga said about 80 militants were killed in the offensive, while eight villages have been recaptured.

The town of Sinjar was seized by IS in August, forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi residents to flee.

Some desperate Yazidis were plucked from a nearby mountain by military helicopter, but thousands of others gathering there later found themselves trapped.

Since August, peshmerga forces have regained most of the territory lost to IS.

The US has also carried out air strikes against IS leaders, in a bid to hamper the group’s ability to carry out attacks and to disable its financing and supply activities.

US air strikes from 3 to 9 December killed Haji Mutazz, one of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s key aides, and Abd al-Basit, who led IS military operations in Iraq.