Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani has claimed strategic victories by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are battling Islamic State (IS) militants in and around the contested northern Iraqi town of Sinjar.
Barzani made the claims on December 21 during a visit to Mount Sinjar, where tens of thousands of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority fled when IS militants captured the town of Sinjar in August.
Barzani said the IS siege of Sinjar Mountain had been broken during the previous 48 hours, opening two overland supply routes and allowing the evacuation of some of the thousands of displaced civilians there.
He said the offensive also threatens to cut an IS supply route to the city of Mosul and that Kurdish fighters may join an operation to retake Mosul if asked to do so by the Iraqi government.
Iraqi government forces launched an offensive against IS militants on December 20 to recapture the military airport near the town of Tal Afar, which was seized by the militants during the summer.
Backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, Peshmerga fighters also were pushing further into parts of the town of Sinjar on December 21.
Barzani said “a large part of the center of the town of Sinjar was also liberated.”
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council said on December 21 that Peshmerga forces were advancing inside the town of Sinjar, "engaging and suppressing (IS) positions" with the support of air strikes by international forces.
But a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, Jabbar Yawar, said Peshmerga fighters still face resistance from pockets of IS militants inside the town and that it is “far from cleared.”
The U.S. military said the coalition launched four air strikes on December 21 in and around Sinjar, destroying IS-controlled buildings as well as heavy weapons and vehicles.
It said it also launched nine other air strikes against IS militants in northern and western Iraq on December 21.
With reporting by Retuers, AP, AFP, and dpa