The Kurdish ground force, Peshmerga, backed by US air support, initiated an offensive to take back the Iraqi town of Sinjar early on Thursday from the jihadist group Islamic State. The offensive aims to cut off the inter-ISIS supply line between Western Iraq and Eastern Syria.
The self-proclaimed caliphate, run by the radical militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has taken control of the western regions of Syria and eastern parts of Iraq. Kurdish forces are preparing to take back the occupied areas, backed by US military support.
The Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq issued a statement announcing that up to 7,500 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were moving on “three fronts to cordon off Sinjar City, take control of ISIL’s strategic supply routes, and establish a significant buffer zone to protect the city and its inhabitants from incoming artillery.”
“Coalition warplanes will provide close air support to Peshmerga forces throughout the operation,” the statement said.
The US will provide air support with its A10 fighter jets on close-range air-to-land attacks for the Peshmerga, who have started their Sinjar campaign in three large columns consisting of support utility vehicles, armored vans, and pick-up trucks.
The Peshmerga have fought ISIS before and has the knowledge of their tactics. However, according to Gen. Aziz Waisi—commander of the Zeravani Force leading one of the columns in the Kurdish offensive—a militant group as well-trained as ISIS always has surprises
“We have made our plans, but not everything goes according to plan,” Waisi said. “It is war, we have a determined enemy, and there are always surprises from ISIS.”
The Peshmerga has estimated that there are more than 700 ISIS militants in and around the valley of Sinjar, who have anticipated the offensive and have already fortified themselves with offensive tactics of suicide bomber cars, followed by snipers posted at various vantage points and mortar fire. ISIS has already planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the 600-mile front that the Kurds share with the ISIS occupied territories. As many as 24 Kurdish soldiers have been killed by these IEDs.
“They try to identify a weak point in the defense and then send everything possible to that single point,” General Waisi said. “It starts with suicide bombers and then heavy machine guns. We know their tactics, but there will be surprises.”
Even If the operation succeeds, Sinjar will account for only a fraction of the area ISIS already occupies. However, a victory for Kurdish forces will sever the ISIS inter-communication and supply line that has been used by the militant group to scramble its manpower and ammunition between eastern and western occupied regions.
Another major government-led offensive is underway in the Sunni-majority Anbar province against ISIS, whereas the Kurd forces have also launched a military offensive in Syria against the militant forces, including ISIS.
Despite the air support from the US, the Peshmerga still lacks vehicles and equipment to cater to the IED-infested border with the ISIS occupied territories, including mine disposal equipment. However, negotiations are underway with the US to provide more MRAP vehicles and mine disposal equipment.