Kurdish Forces Retake Mount Sinjar from ISIS; Now Comes the Hard Part of Holding On to It

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ISIS hardly put up any resistance, but now comes the hard part of holding the Iraqi mountain city and allowing its beleaguered Yazidi residents to return safely.

On the morning of the offensive to clear ISIS from Sinjar City, the thud of airstrikes shook the earth as the Kurdish peshmerga fighters headed into battle. The sky was clear and the bonfires that the men had huddled around the night before were dying down. At the sound of warplanes above, the soldiers cheered and were in high spirits.

“A lot of airplanes targeted ISIS inside Shingal [Sinjar] today,” Sharzad Abdullah, a local student from the city, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday evening. “More than any other day, as I heard they carried out 50 airstrikes.”

The Daily Beast embedded with an advancing peshmerga column as it proceeded to cut ISIS off from the strategic M47 highway connecting Syria and Sinjar from the west. The road was clear of any ISIS presence. Tank fire rattled as the peshmerga cleared swept towns on either side of the M47. In the distance, trails of dust could be seen from what appeared to be the cars of ISIS fighters as they sped away to the south.

The body of what seemed to be a teenage ISIS fighter from Tal Afar was buried by the side of the road using a truck.  Peshmerga artillery aimed in the distance and managed to destroy an ISIS car bomb, filling the clear blue sky with grey dust.

Peshmerga commander General Zaim Ali looked toward the highway where he was leading his men. Tanks, bulldozers, and soldiers from the engineering unit led the attack to clear explosives in preparation for the infantry to follow.

“There is not a big ISIS resistance,” he said. “We just blew up three ISIS car bombs, one with a MILAN rocket and the other two were taken out with airstrikes.”

Ali added that the battle was originally delayed because of the weather, but now the main problems were dealing with IEDs. A radio in the background crackled with news of more explosives being detonated.

“‘Are you OK?” a fighter shouted into the handset.  “Yes, comrade. ISIS are running away,” came the reply.

“Lately they brought 4-500 reinforcements here, mostly snipers, but this is no problem, we can deal with them,” Ali explained. As the day wore on and the men pushed further, the general spoke to The Daily Beast again on the outskirts of Sinjar city, before rushing off to recapture an ex-Iraqi army barracks from ISIS. “Now we are surrounding ISIS,” he said, adding that the major threat in the city would be suicide bombers.

On the western front, Garbara, a town in the foothills of the mountain, was secured by the peshmerga, but locals said it had already been retaken by Yazidi fighters. The claims show the patchwork of competing forces and competing claims for credit.

The light began to fade on the battlefront as a digger moved to create an earthen berm through the fields around the city and peshmerga artillery thudded toward the town. Earth was moved up in a long line, creating a trench where the digger had past. At the end of a road leading left through stubbly fields, irregular soldiers and volunteers gathered on stretches of land where they could view the progress of the battle.

Lukman Ido, 40, a Yazidi volunteer fighter, sported a white mustache and red scarf wrapped around his head. He leaned against his pickup truck while Yazidi fighters milled around.

“The peshmerga did their best and the PKK did their best, but we need to defend our own land. I have to try and do my best because it is my land. ISIS harmed us and took our girls, so we should take it back.”

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SOURCE: Cathy Otten
The Daily Beast