Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power destroyed an Islamic State safe haven in northern Iraq, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
A combined force of Kurdish Peshmerga troops and Iraqi army soldiers successfully cleared the ISIS hideout in the mountainous region south of Erbil, the capital of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. The operation began early Monday with airstrikes by coalition warplanes, followed by a Peshmerga assault on the ISIS position.
“Our partners fought valiantly today as they continue to remove remaining elements of a savage enemy from their country,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, commander of anti-ISIS coalition forces, said in a statement. “This action proves the enemy cannot hide.”
It was not immediately clear how many ISIS fighters were killed or captured during the battle. Local media outlets reported that “many” militants were killed in the operation, along with at least five Peshmerga fighters, including an officer.
Although the U.S.-backed coalition has driven ISIS from nearly every bit of territory it once controlled in Iraq, the terror group still retains the ability to carry out guerilla-style attacks and suicide bombings across the northern half of the country. ISIS has launched attacks against Iraqi security forces and civilians in its former strongholds in Anbar and Kirkuk provinces in 2018, as well as Mosul city, its former “capital” in Iraq. (RELATED: Diehard ISIS Fighters Resort To Guerrilla Attacks In Iraq and Syria)
ISIS remnants have also sought refuge in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, where cooperation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army broke down following the failure of a Kurdish independence referendum in October. Since then, the security situation in the region has worsened, allowing ISIS terror cells to reconstitute themselves.
“IS activities are numerous in this area as it is easy for them to take advantage of the [security] vacuum that exists between us and Iraqi forces,” Sirwan Barzani, a Peshmerga commander, was quoted as saying by Kurdistan24 News.
Iraqi government troops played a supporting role in Monday’s operation and did not participate in the main assault on the ISIS hideout, according to Kurdish military commanders. Baghdad and Erbil have yet to reach an agreement about joint security operations that take place outside of the U.S-led coalition, Jamal Eminki, the Peshmerga chief of staff, told Kurdistan24.
“There have been no talks or deals between the Ministry of Peshmerga and Iraq’s Ministry of Defense,” he said, but added that Kurdish troops “remain on standby” for attacks on other ISIS safe havens.
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