The Kurds Cut a Major Islamic State Supply Route
Peshmerga troops seized a critical road during the push toward Mosul
During the early morning hours on Jan. 21, Kurdish Peshmerga troops launched an offensive south of Mosul Dam to retake villages and strategic roads from Islamic State.
“Peshmerga controlled more than 20 villages in this offensive and Wanke district,” Brig. Gen. Bahram Yasin—commander of Peshmerga forces in Sinjar—told War Is Boring.
The Kurdish Regional Government’s official Website claimed that 5,000 Peshmerga soldiers—including 1,000 volunteer fighters—are participating in the offensive. They launched the attack from positions to the southeast and southwest of the dam.
The Kurdish fighters also took control of a strategic road junction that links Islamic State-held Mosul—Iraq’s second-largest city—to the towns of Tal Afar and Sinjar.
It’s the first step in what will be a joint campaign by Kurdish and Iraqi forces to close in on Mosul—aided by U.S.-led coalition warplanes and advisers.
Peshmerga forces have now cleared Islamic State from a stretch of territory 24 miles long and seven miles wide, Kurdistan Region Security Council chancellor Masrour Barzani said during a press conference.
After Kurdish forces liberated Mosul Dam on Aug. 18, the Islamists launched several assaults to retake the strategic location. But the Kurds foiled each attempt with the help of coalition aircraft.
During the Jan. 21 offensive, Islamic State deployed several armored vehicles to stop the Peshmerga, Barzani said. But the vehicles were all destroyed—three by coalition airstrikes and 13 by Kurdish troops armed with anti-tank weapons.
Kurdish media reported that German anti-tank missiles were particularly effective during the battle. These were likely in reference to MILAN guided missiles Berlin provided to the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The U.S.-led coalition carried out 21 air strikes in Iraq on Jan. 21 “using attack, bomber, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft,” noted a statement from U.S. Central Command.
Near Mosul, warplanes hit Islamic State armored vehicles, staging positions, heavy weapons and two bridges. The coalition carried out 10 air strikes in Syria—all but one near the contested town of Kobani.
According to a Kurdish official, the Peshmerga killed more than 200 Islamic State fighters in Iraq, and militants took further casualties as they fled the battlefield. This number couldn’t be independently verified. Three Peshmerga fighters died in the push, an official told War Is Boring.
One of the dead was a Rojava Peshmerga — a Syrian-Kurdish volunteer.
The most important gain is the road junction between Mosul and Tal Afar. Yasin explained that closing these roads will make it difficult for Islamic State to bring in more supplies from Syria.
The jihadi group uses these roads to move oil from its territory in Iraq to Syria’s markets—and to transport weapons and ammunition from Syria to its front-line fighters in Iraq.
Yasin said that Islamic State must now redirect supplies from Syria through the Qaim border crossing—and along a lengthy, 250-mile-long road. “After yesterday’s offensive, ISIS fighters are very worried in Sinjar town and the other districts,” the brigadier general added.
“They can’t attack anymore,” Yasin said. “They are putting IEDs and TNT in the city in order to strengthen their fronts and to damage the city.”
Islamic State knows it’s on the defensive … and is booby-trapping its territory.
Meanwhile, the Peshmerga are nine miles away from Mosul’s western edge, and 12 miles from Tal Afar—and they hold the main road between both.