ARBIL, Iraq, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Kurdish forces launched an operation to retake the town of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq early on Wednesday after heavy coalition air strikes on Islamic State positions in the area overnight, Kurdish security officials said.
If the peshmerga succeed in recapturing the town, it would open up a corridor to Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis have been besieged by IS militants since August.
It would also be a symbolic victory for the Kurds, whose reputation as fearsome warriors was bruised after Islamic State overpowered the peshmerga in Sinjar and killed or captured hundreds of Yazidis.
“At 8:00 this morning the ground offensive began to liberate Sinjar town,” said one official in the region’s Security Council, adding that coalition planes had pounded the area for several hours beforehand.
“There’s evidence that a lot of IS fighters abandoned their weapons and fled the area.”
Several Kurdish security officials gave similar accounts.
U.S. President Barack Obama cited the duty to prevent an impending massacre of Yazidis by Islamic State militants as one of the main reasons for authorising the first air strikes in Iraq this summer.
Since then, Kurdish peshmerga forces have regained most of the ground they lost to Islamic State in northern Iraq, but Sinjar’s awkward geography - out on a limb to the west, has made it difficult to penetrate. (Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Dominic Evans)