Peshmerga forces face resistance from Islamic State militants

Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes against the Sunni jihadists, Kurdish fighters continue Sinjar offensive

Yazidi fighters head to battle Islamic State militants, on the summit of Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (Photo credit: AP/Dalton Bennett)
Yazidi fighters head to battle Islamic State militants, on the summit of Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (Photo credit: AP/Dalton Bennett)

SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — Kurdish fighters in Iraq have pushed deeper into the town of Sinjar, held by the Islamic State group, but are facing stiff resistance from the Sunni militants who captured it in August.

One of the fighters, Bakhil Elias, says clashes overnight and on Monday have been “fierce” and that IS militants are using snipers. At least two Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed by snipers and 25 were wounded in the latest fighting.

Large plumes of black smoke are billowing into the sky from inside the town.

The Kurdish forces say the militants are burning tires and oil to create a smoke screen with the thick dark clouds and obstruct airstrikes against their positions by the U.S-led coalition.

Last week, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched the operation to retake Sinjar, and opened up a passageway to Mount Sinjar, which overlooks the town. That push allowed some of the thousands of Yazidi trapped on the mountain following the town’s fall in August to evacuate.

On Sunday, loud explosions and intense gunbattles were heard from inside the town as coalition aircraft bombed Islamic State fighters.

The president of the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, Massoud Bazani, toured Kurdish positions on Mount Sinjar, where he vowed to defeat the Islamic State group.

“Most of the districts are under our control,” Barzani told peshmerga troops. “We will crush the Islamic State.”

At least 15 Kurdish fighters wounded in Sunday’s clashes were brought from the front-lines to a makeshift clinic on the mountain.

The spokesman for the Kurdish forces, Jabbar Yawar, said the fighters were still facing resistance from pockets of Islamic State militants still inside the town and that it is “far from cleared.” He declined to provide more details on the ongoing operation.

Meanwhile, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces launched an offensive Saturday to retake the military airport near the town of Tal Afar from the IS group, said a Baghdad official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Tal Afar is a mixed Shiite-Sunni city of some 200,000 located strategically near the Syrian border to the east of Sinjar.

In Syria, meanwhile, the US-led coalition carried out at least a dozen airstrikes against IS-controlled towns in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground.

The Local Coordination Committees also reported the strikes near the town of Dabiq. There was no word on casualties.

Mainstream rebels as well as al-Qaeda-linked fighters have been battling IS northeast of the city of Aleppo for months, while also trying to fend off an advance by Syrian government forces to encircle the opposition-held areas of the city.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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