Iraqi Kurds claimed to have broken a siege on a mountain where Yazidi civilians and fighters have long been trapped as the US said air strikes killed several Islamic State leaders in recent weeks.
Officials said the twin successes dealt heavy blows to IS’s command and control as well as their supply lines, and were the latest in a string of apparent setbacks for the group in recent weeks.
The Kurdish advances came during a two-day blitz into the Sinjar region invol ing 8,000 peshmerga fighters and some of the heaviest air strikes since a US-led coalition started an air campaign four months ago.
Masrour Barzani, the son of the Kurdish president and the intelligence chief for the Iraqi autonomous region, said the peshmerga advance had broken the siege on Mount Sinjar.
“Peshmerga forces have reached Mount Sinjar, the siege on the mountain has been lifted,” he said from an operations centre near the border with Syria.
The peshmerga said they recaptured eight villages on the way and killed about 80 IS fighters in the initial phase of the offensive launched from Rabia on the Syria border and Zumar on the shores of Mosul Dam Lake.
They also lost seven men on Wednesday in Qasreej village when they failed to stop a suicide attacker who rammed an explosives-laden armoured vehicle into their convoy, officers at the scene said.
“This operation represents the single biggest military offensive against IS and the most successful,” a statement from Barzani’s office said.
A devastating IS attack on the Yazidi minority’s Sinjar heartland in August displaced tens of thousands of people and was one of the reasons put forward by US President Barack Obama for launching a campaign of air strikes in September.
Amid fears of a genocide against the small Kurdish-speaking minority, tens of thousands of Yazidis fled to the mountain and remained trapped there in the searing summer heat with no supplies.
Kurdish fighters, mostly Syrian, broke that first siege but remaining anti-IS forces were subsequently unable to hold positions in the plains and retreated back to the mountain in late September.