Iraq Kurds take back several villages from ISIS jihadists
ERBIL (Iraq) - A ground offensive led by 3,500 Iraqi Kurdish forces Wednesday recaptured several villages west of the city of Kirkuk from the Islamic State group, officials said.
Backed by warplanes from the US-led coalition, the fourth operation of its kind in the Kirkuk area left at least 10 Kurdish peshmerga forces and dozens of ISIS fighters dead.
"The offensive, launched from three fronts west of Kirkuk, included approximately 3,500 peshmerga," the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said in a statement.
It said the offensive, which began at dawn, had cleared an area of 140 square kilometres (56 square miles).
The KRSC said coalition air strikes targeted 30 IS positions during the offensive, which peshmerga commanders said had achieved its goals.
The operation was aimed at tightening the noose on Hawija, an IS stronghold around 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of Baghdad and further protecting the autonomous Kurdish region from jihadist attacks.
A peshmerga major general said 10 Kurdish troops were killed during the operation and at least 15 wounded.
"We lost those peshmerga because of IEDs," or improvised explosive devices the ISIS usually plants to slow enemy progress, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We did not lose anybody in clashes because Daesh (an Arab acronym for ISIS) was running away from us as we advanced," he said.
The KRSC statement said that at least 40 ISIS members were killed during the operation. It was not immediately possible to corroborate that figure, however.
Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, the commander of peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, said 12 villages were retaken during the operation.
Several coalition air raids took place in the area in the hours leading to the offensive to pave the way for the ground assault.
In its daily breakdown of coalition air strikes on Iraq and Syria, the US military said eight strikes were carried out in the Hawija area and three near Kirkuk.