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Kurdish Fighters Vow to Rid Region of Islamic State Militants

Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State (IS) insurgents withdrew August 18, 2014.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, a deeply nationalistic but not always unified force, are vowing to rid their northern Iraqi region of Islamic State militants.

The United States and European Union are relying heavily on the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces to push back the Sunni extremists and retake Iraqi territory that the Islamic State has declared a Muslim "caliphate."

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Mahmoud Sangawi, commander of Peshmerga forces stationed near the Iranian border, describes what the fight is like near the captured town of Jalawla.

"We are positioned around Jalawla and the terrorists from time to time attack us," he said. "They have planted mines and explosive devices in the roads, inside the town, shops, and gas stations."

Once known for their fighting prowess, the Peshmerga were routed by the highly organized and well-armed extremist group when it pushed through northwestern Iraq earlier this year, seizing large swaths of land.

Sangawi acknowledged the Peshmerga will have to adjust their strategy and tactics to oust the Islamic State militants.

"We have suffered heavy casualties from their snipers, and our fighters are not familiar with street fighting, so we had to pull out," he said. "Now we are looking at a different strategy to liberate Jalawla."

The commander also called on the United States to increase and expand its aerial bombardment of the militants.

The United States has conducted more than 80 airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters since August 8 to protect religious and ethnic minorities fleeing the militants as well as American personnel based both in the Kurdish city of Irbil and the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Also entering the struggle against the Islamic State are fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant Kurdish wing that has been designated as a terrorist group for its decades-long fight against neighboring Turkey.

The PKK fighters, which include a number of combat-experienced women, are credited with having helped Yazidi refugees escape the Islamic State onslaught.