Iraq Kurds press anti-jihadist drive as US, UK turn up heat
Baqufa: Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and American warplanes pressed a counter-offensive on Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq`s largest dam, as the US and Britain boosted their military involvement.
The recapture of Mosul dam marks the biggest prize yet clawed back from Islamic State (IS) jihadists since they launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in June, sweeping aside Iraqi security forces.
US aircraft are carrying out strikes in support of the forces battling IS militants, who have declared a "caliphate" straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
The jihadists also came under attack in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa by Syria`s air force for a second straight day on Monday.
In Iraq, "the planes are striking and the peshmerga are advancing," a Kurdish fighter told AFP on Monday near the shore of the lake formed by the vast Mosul dam.
AFP journalists heard jets flying overhead, and saw smoke rising from the site of a strike that a peshmerga member said targeted an entrance to the dam.
"In the beginning, (IS) surprised us with their offensive. But now, we know their tactics, and they can`t take another yard from us," peshmerga Major General Sardar Kamal said at the front line in the nearby Baqufa area.
Fighting also broke out in an area to the south as engineering teams worked to clear booby traps and bombs left by jihadists, said Kawa Khatari, an official from Iraq`s main Kurdish party.
A senior peshmerga officer told AFP there was sporadic fighting in the town of Tal Kayf southeast of the dam, and that only a "small number" of jihadists remain in the dam area.
Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta confirmed today that Mosul dam was entirely liberated in a joint operation by Iraqi "anti-terrorism forces and peshmerga forces with aerial support".
Atta added on state television that while the dam had been retaken, fighting was continuing in adjoining facilities.
The Mosul dam breakthrough came after US warplanes and drones at the weekend carried out their heaviest-yet bombing of IS militants in the north since the air strikes began on August 8.
The US Central Command reported that the military had carried out 14 air strikes Sunday near the dam on the Tigris river, which provides electricity and irrigation water to much of the region.
Sunday`s strikes destroyed 10 IS armed vehicles, seven IS Humvees, two armoured personnel carriers and one IS checkpoint.