Kurdish forces retook Sinjar Friday morning with the help of U.S. airstrikes, liberating the Iraqi city from more than 15 months of Islamic State rule and cutting off one of the group’s major supply lines.
Iraqi Kurds advancing from the east met up with Syrian Kurds advancing from the west in the center of Sinjar, meeting with little resistance from ISIS after dozens of U.S. airstrikes laid the groundwork for the counteroffensive Thursday. The victory stops ISIS from using a highway running through the city as a strategic route between Raqqa, its Syrian capital, and Mosul, a stronghold in northern Iraq.
“There was no resistance — I mean zero,” a German filmmaker embedded in the front line with Syrian Kurdish fighters told The New York Times. “We ran down the hill, like in a raid, and the whole time I saw just one dead Daesh [ISIS] fighter.”
Kurdish forces said they intercepted radio traffic between ISIS fighters leading up to their advance suggesting some of them were deserting, and said they heard an ISIS leader “berating” his men and threatening to behead deserters.
ISIS had occupied the city for more than 15 months after overrunning it in 2014, killing, raping and enslaving large numbers of the Yazidis who had lived there. The plight of those who escaped to Mt. Sinjar but were under siege from ISIS drew international attention and resulted in a U.S.-Kurdish rescue effort. (RELATED: Mission Accomplished On Mt Sinjar, Obama Declares)
Most were displaced to refugee camps and thousands remain in ISIS captivity.
Volunteer Yazidi fighters, including men as old as 70, joined Kurdistan’s peshmerga and special forces, and Kurdish separatist fighters based in Syria in the offensive for a total of about 7,500 fighters. Civilians apparently fled in the days leading up to the fight and only a handful of ISIS fighters reportedly remained.
“Even those who don’t have weapons should come and bring a stick to beat the enemy,” a 65-year-old volunteer fighter told Reuters.
Although they met with little resistance, the Kurds moved with caution as they cleared the city of remaining ISIS fighters — some of whom they expected to blow themselves up — and the explosive devices they had planted.
Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani declared victory Friday. “We promised and we keep our promises: We proved to our Yazidi brothers and sisters that all Kuridstan is behind them,” he said, while overlooking Sinjar. “Today we took revenge for every Yazidi.”
A U.S.-led coalition released footage of what it says are airstrikes recently conducted in Iraq, near Sinjar.
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