Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have begun an operation to retake villages around Mosul from Islamic State militants.
Peshmerga officials said Sunday several villages have been secured. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising in the area as fighting continued.
FILE - Kurdish Peshmerga forces fire a weapon during clashes with Islamic State militants in a village east of Mosul, Iraq, May 29, 2016.
The military operation is a major step in the attempt to retake Mosul — Iraq's second largest city — from Islamic State, which captured the city two years ago. Iraq's leaders have promised to retake the northern city this year.
Mosul is where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Badhdadi declared a "caliphate" in 2014, covering Iraq and Syria, along with other parts of the region in the Middle East.