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Peshmerga launch major offensive to retake Sinjar from IS

Sinjar is located on a key Islamic State supply line linking its operations in Iraq and Syria
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter monitors from the front line near Sinjar earlier this year (AFP)

Iraqi Kurdish forces on Thursday launched a major operation against the Islamic State group in the town of Sinjar, which lies on a key militant supply line, a senior officer said.

"The attack began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT), and the (Kurdish) peshmerga forces advanced on several axes to liberate the centre of the Sinjar district," Major General Ezzeddine Saadun told AFP.

Columns of smoke rose over the town from US-led coalition strikes and Kurdish shelling against IS positions in Sinjar, an AFP journalist said.

Sinjar is located on a key IS supply line linking Mosul, its hub in Iraq, with Syria, where it also holds large tracts of territory.

Cutting that link would be a major blow to the group's ability to move fighters and supplies between the two countries.

“We expect a lot of IEDS, car bombs, suicide bombing,” said Kurdish commander Rawan Barzani to the Washington Post. “Getting Sinjar back is crucial because then ISIS have to decide between Raqqa and Mosul."

The autonomous Kurdish region's security council said up to 7,500 of its peshmerga fighters would take part in the operation, which aims to retake Sinjar "and establish a significant buffer zone to protect the (town) and its inhabitants from incoming artillery".

IS overran the Sinjar area in August 2014, targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority in a brutal campaign of killings, enslavement and rape described by the UN as a possible genocide.

Thousands of Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sinjar, which overlooks the town, and aiding the Yazidis was one of Washington's main justifications for starting its air campaign against IS last year. 

Many of the Yazidis were rescued by Kurdish YPG and PKK forces.