KIRKUK, IRAQ —
Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq say they have driven the Islamic State group from more than 140 square kilometers of territory near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and cleared part of a major highway.
The Kurdish peshmerga fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, pushed the militants 48 kilometers south of Kirkuk and secured a stretch of a highway which connects Kirkuk to the central city of Samarra, a statement from the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said.
Talking to VOA Kurdish, Kamal Kirkuki, a peshmarga commander in the region, said his forces recaptured 12 villages from Islamic State fighters during Wednesday's operations.
“Peshmarga forces recaptured Ghara Hills, a location the ISIS used to fire shells [on areas south of] Kirkuk," he said.
A peshmerga major general said 16 Kurdish troops were killed during the operation and at least 32 were wounded.
The U.S. military said in a statement that coalition aircraft conducted more than 50 airstrikes in support of the operation.
"Airstrikes against Daesh positions began several days before the ground operation in order to set favorable conditions for the Peshmerga by degrading Daesh's ability to fight," it said. "In the last four weeks, the Peshmerga have conducted three successful offensive operations against Daesh terrorists, returning more than 400 square kilometers of territory to government control."
Those areas are not part of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, but have long been claimed by the Kurds.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Kurdish service.