Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, has announced the “liberation” of the town of Sinjar in a major operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.
The offensive, led by the Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region’s Peshmerga forces, also involved US air support and fighters from the Yazidi minority, a local Kurdish-speaking community targeted in a brutal ISIL campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape.
“I am here to announce the liberation of Sinjar,” Barzani told a news conference near the town on Friday.
“Without doubt, any victory in any area will have a big impact on achieving victory in the remaining areas. And without doubt the liberation of Sinjar will have a big impact on liberating Mosul too,” Barzani said.
About 7,500 fighters participated in the operation that began on Thursday.
As a result of the offensive, Kurdish forces were able to cut Highway 47, which is a strategic route between Raqqa in Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul – the main ISIL bastions.
Speaking in Tunisia around the same time with Barzani, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” the town would be freed in the operation by Kurdish Peshmerga backed by US-led air strikes and ground spotters.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Sohela along one of the main supply routes for the Sinjar offensive, said the Peshmerga walked into the town almost unopposed.
“The Kurdish Peshmerga entered the town from the north this morning [Friday] and took over the municipal building there. They now say they are in control of the entire town,” said Khan.
“We were expecting a fightback from ISIL. That has not happened. The Kurdish Peshmerga managed to walk into the town almost unopposed after intense fighting on Thursday. And that is actually quite unusual.
“We have seen ISIL when they are on the back foot fight back quite hard in the past.
“But pro-ISIL sources told me that most of the ISIL rebels had left Sinjar on November 11, in what they said was a tactical withdrawal,” our correspondent said.
Meanwhile in Syria, Kurdish officials and Syrian activists announced that a coalition of rebel factions in northern Syria have captured an ISIL-held town near Iraq’s border.
The coalition, known as the Democratic Forces of Syria, seized the town of Hol in northern Hasakah province on Friday in an apparent attempt to further cut ISIL supply lines.
The town is across the border from Sinjar in Iraq.
The area of Sinjar, including Sinjar Mountain, was overrun by ISIL in August last year in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Yazidis, and first prompted the US to launch air strikes against ISIL.
Various Kurdish groups on the town’s edge have been fighting battles for months against ISIL fighters in Sinjar.
The factions include the Turkey-based Kurdish Workers’ Party, the Syria-based People’s Protection Units – better known as the YPG – and Yazidi-led forces calling themselves the Sinjar Resistance.
Iraqi Peshmerga have also held positions further outside the town.