Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have captured a vast territory southeast of Mosul in recent days during an operation against the Islamic State (IS) militants.
Peshmerga officials said on Monday that 11 villages occupied mostly by the Shabak religious minority have been secured. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising in the area as fighting continued.
“Around 150 square kilometers of land was liberated, and the enemy forces were heavily defeated,” according to a statement from the Kurdish General Peshmerga Command. “And according to the latest record, 130 terrorists were killed, and many others were wounded.”
The military operation is a major step in the attempt to retake Mosul — Iraq's second largest city and home to over a million people — from IS, which captured the city two years ago.
“The significance of this operation is that we will control the Mosul-Gwer road which is a major route to liberate Mosul in the future,” Kurdish commander Eskender Gerdi told VOA.
The U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS, Brett McGurk, hailed the advances as a further tightening of the noose on the Islamists.
“More Kurdish #Peshmerga advances today east of #Mosul, shaping the conditions for ultimate defeat of #ISIL terrorists,” tweeted McGurk using ‘ISIL’ as an acronym for the Islamic State.
Iraq's leaders have promised to retake Mosul this year.
The predominantly Sunni city is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a "caliphate" in 2014, covering Iraq and Syria, along with other parts of the region in the Middle East.