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Peshmerga and Iraqi forces step up attacks on IS militants

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi forces offensives lead to the death of tens of IS militants in Iraq
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand in Nineveh, Iraq on 18 December 2014 (AFP)

US led anti-IS coalition airstrikes and sporadic clashes in the Iraqi provinces of Anbar and Nineveh killed approximately 70 Islamic State (IS) militants on Sunday, according to sources close to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence.

Twenty-three IS militants were killed and several others injured in an operation carried out by government forces in Ramadi in the Anbar province, reported Sky News Arabic.

To the west of Ramadi, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence announced that Baghdadi was nearly freed from IS control, while in a statement released by the ministry, the Iraqi government said its forces had succeeded in restoring control over all government buildings in the city.

The statement also cited the death of about 18 militants during operations carried out by Iraqi government forces.

In Nineveh province, government spokesman Tahsin Ibrahim, told SkyNews Arabic that the coalition airstrikes had managed to destroy an IS convoy coming from Syria to Iraq.

He added that the airstrike launched by the anti-IS coalition near the Iraqi-Syrian borders had killed 30 militants and injured tens.

Furthermore, one hundred IS militants were killed due to clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and IS militants in Ninevah on Monday.

Peshmerga forces said they repelled IS attacks on three different villages – Tal al-Rim, Tal al-Sha’ir and Sultan Abdullah – which the Peshmerga had seized control of last year.

According to Peshmerga sources, IS militants are now preparing to launch an attack on the three villages which are located nearly 60 kilometres from Arbil.

Peshmerga launch offensive in Hassakeh

Kurdish fighters also launched an offensive against IS militants in Syria's northeastern Hassakeh province and pushed them from several areas, a monitoring group and the main Kurdish party said.

The offensive, launched late on Saturday, is aimed at retaking the town of Tal Hamis and areas around it that are under the control of the Islamic State group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Kurdish militia forces, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), "managed to advance and took over some 20 villages, farms and hamlets in the area," the Britain-based Observatory said.

At least 12 militants were killed in the fighting, it said. It was not known if Kurdish forces lost any fighters.

Warplanes from the US-led coalition against IS carried out several strikes targeting militant positions in the area during the fighting, the Observatory said.

Newaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), confirmed the advance and said fighting was raging in the area.

"This is one of the YPG's biggest recent operations," Khalil said.

The offensive began nearly a month after the YPG recaptured all of the town of Kobane on the border with Turkey from IS, after four months of fierce fighting backed by Syrian rebels and US-led coalition air strikes.

Coalition round up

The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria groups more than 60 countries, of which a dozen are taking part in air strikes.

Washington is carrying out its strikes in Syria with the help of Arab allies - Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In Iraq it has the active support of seven Western countires - Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.

The coalition has since August carried out 2,000 air strikes, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on 8 February.

While excluding the deployment of ground troops, coalition countries have also sent more than 1,000 military trainers to work with Iraqi forces.

US-led air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria have killed more than 1,600 people, mainly militants, since they began five months ago, a monitor said on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost all of those killed were militants from IS and al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front, though it has also documented the deaths of 62 civilians.

The Britain-based monitor said the strikes that began on 23 September had killed 1,465 members of the Islamic State group, most of them non-Syrians.

Another 73 fighters from al-Nusra Front were killed, along with a man from a rebel group being held prisoner by IS in the group's de facto capital Raqqa.

Washington and a small coalition of Arab countries began strikes against IS in Syria last year, expanding US-led operations with a broader coalition already underway against IS in Iraq.

IS emerged in Syria in 2013, growing from al-Qaeda's former Iraqi affiliate.

But it broke with al-Qaeda and declared an Islamic "caliphate" in territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, attracting a steady stream of foreign fighters and carrying out abuses including beheadings.

France steps up contribution to anti-IS coalition

A French aircraft carrier launched operations in the Gulf on Monday as Paris stepped up its participation in the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State group.

Seven weeks after murderers killed 17 people in Paris’s Charlie Hebdo incident, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed France would face the militant threat head-on.

"This threat, jihadist terrorism, wants to reach our citizens, our interests, our values. France's response will be total firmness," Le Drian said as he launched operations aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

Four Rafale fighter jets took off in the morning from the carrier as it sailed about 200 kilometres (120 miles) off the coast north of Bahrain in the direction of Iraq.

France launched Operation Chammal in support of the US-led coalition against IS in September.

The Charles de Gaulle left its base in Toulon on 13 January for a five-month mission that will include eight weeks in the Gulf working alongside the USS Carl Vinson as part of the coalition launched after IS seized swathes of Syria and Iraq last year.

The French carrier is then to travel to India, where it is due to take part in exercises in mid-April.

Carrying 12 Rafale and nine Super Etendard fighters, the carrier will significantly increase French air capabilities in the region.

France has nine Rafales in the United Arab Emirates and six Mirage fighters in Jordan operating in Iraq, along with a maritime patrol and a refuelling aircraft.

The warship's deployment will cut in half the time it takes for planes to reach Iraq for strikes against IS from the base in the UAE.

French warplanes have carried out about 100 reconnaissance missions and the same number of strike raids in Iraq since mid-September, defence ministry sources said.

France is, along with Australia, one of the main contributors to the 32-member coalition effort aside from the United States, which is carrying out the bulk of strikes.

The coalition has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since August, with France and other Western nations conducting operations over Iraq and several Arab nations taking part in strikes over Syria.

The campaign aims to support forces in Iraq and Syria, including rebel fighters and Kurdish forces, fighting IS on the ground and to hit infrastructure seized by the jihadist group such as oil facilities.

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