IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Aided by U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes, Kurdish forces Sunday wrested back part of Iraq's largest dam from Islamic militants who had captured it less than two weeks ago, security officials said.
The U.S. began targeting fighters from the Islamic State with airstrikes Aug. 8, allowing Kurdish forces to fend off an advance on their regional capital of Irbil and to help tens of thousands of members of religious minorities escape the extremists' onslaught.
Recapturing the entire Mosul Dam and the territory surrounding its reservoir would be a significant victory against the Islamic State group, which has seized swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria. The dam on the Tigris supplies electricity and water to a large part of the country.
The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, launched the operation early Sunday to retake the Mosul Dam, said Gen. Tawfik Desty, a Kurdish commander, after a day of U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes pushed back Islamic State fighters.
A spokesman for the peshmerga said the clashes were moving eastward.
"The west is in control of peshmerga. But there are some battles taking place in the (east) right now," said Halgurd Hekmat, peshmerga spokesman.
Another commander confirmed the information, saying that by Sunday evening, peshmerga forces had crossed the Tigris to the broad plains held by the Islamic State.
The U.S. military conducted 14 airstrikes Sunday, damaging or destroying 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint, according to a statement by the Central Command. On Saturday, it carried out nine airstrikes near the dam, destroying four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and another armored vehicle, the command said.
The peshmerga, the fighting force of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, surrounded the Islamic State-held city of Tel Kayf after taking the nearby town of Tel Kasouf, said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
The advance of Kurdish forces was hindered by roadside bombs and buildings rigged with explosives, planted by retreating Islamic State fighters, he said.
"They have reached inside the dam. There is no fighting, just the (roadside) bombs, and the abandoned buildings are all rigged with explosives," he said. "We will continue to advance and advance until we are given further instruction."
The commander said the evening advance occurred after the Iraqi government delivered 16 military Humvees, at least one with a mechanized bomb-disposal unit that was dismantling the roadside explosives.
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