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Kurdish Forces Press Sinjar Offensive Against IS Extremists

Iraqi Kurdish forces tow a howitzer near the front lines on their way to the city of Sinjar, Iraq, Dec. 19, 2014.

Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters advanced on Islamic State extremists Saturday in the Sinjar Mountains of northwestern Iraq, two days after breaking a months-long siege that trapped thousands of persecuted Yazidi minorities.

Kurdish leaders and journalists said peshmerga forces — backed by U.S.-led airstrikes — swept across the northern side of Mount Sinjar and were pushing southward toward the town of Sinjar and the besieged city of Tal Afar to the east.

By late in the day, Western journalists reported cheering children and the Iraqi Kurdish flag flying on the mountain.

A 32-truck aid convoy sent by Iraqi Kurds to the entrapped Yazidis also reached the mountain Saturday.

Islamic State jihadists captured almost a third of Iraq and nearby Syria earlier this year, plunging the region into chaos.

The towns of Sinjar and Zumar fell to the extremist group in early August, forcing tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee to Mount Sinjar, where they were encircled.

Since then, Iraqi Kurds and Yazidi fighters have regained most of the ground they had lost in northern Iraq.

On Wednesday, an estimated 8,000 peshmerga fighters launched what their leaders described as the largest operation yet against the Islamic State jihadists. The push is expected to force many IS fighters westward into nearby Syria or eastward to the extremist-controlled Iraqi second city of Mosul.