Kurdish forces launch major assault on IS-held villages east of Mosul
Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces on Sunday launched an offensive aimed at retaking areas east of Mosul, the Islamic State (IS) group's main hub in the country, with reports that troops from the US coalition were also taking part on the ground.
The "peshmerga-led ground offensive, backed by international coalition warplanes" started before dawn, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said in a statement, with attacks on IS-controlled villages 20 kilometres east of Mosul.
IS had placed booby traps around the abandoned villages, Kurdish news site Rudaw reported, and used suicide bombers to try and repel the advance of some 5,500 peshmerga fighters.
"This is one of the many shaping operations expected to increase pressure on ISIL [IS] in and around Mosul in preparation for an eventual assault on the city," the KRSC said.
English-speaking soldiers from the US-led coalition were also seen loading armoured vehicles a few kilometres from the frontline on Sunday morning, Reuters reported, although it could not be confirmed that they were US operatives.
A coalition spokersperson based in Baghdad, US Colonel Steve Warren, said he could not confirm the nationaliy of the officers seen close to the frontlines, but confirmed that “US and coalition forces are conducting advise and assist operations to help Kurdish peshmerga forces”.
Six hours into the operation, peshmerga forces had retaken the village of Mufti, the statement said.
Following the retaking of Mufti, a peshmerga soldier involved in the operation told Rudaw that the village was unrecognisable after years of IS control.
“Life in this village was normal,” Khalid Jabbar told Rudaw. “But then IS came and destroyed everything.”
The operation around Mufti – just a 25-minute drive from the IS stronghold of Mosul – aims to extend the frontline for anti-IS forces hoping eventually to recapture the group's largest base in Iraq.
The fresh push against IS comes a week after Iraqi forces launched an operation against Fallujah, about 400 kilometres to the south, IS's only other major urban hub in Iraq.