U.S. sup­ports Kurds in fight for Sin­jar

Key sup­ply route link­ing Syria and North­ern Iraq for Is­lamic State fight­ers tar­geted

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State group be­gan its first co­or­di­nated cross-border of­fen­sive last week, driv­ing to re­take the key city of Sin­jar in north­ern Iraq while chok­ing off the ex­trem­ist move­ment’s cap­i­tal of Raqqa in Syria.

A Kur­dish of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the pesh­merga, the armed forces of semi­au­tonomous Kur­dis­tan, have killed more than 100 Is­lamic State fight­ers and con­trol a neigh­bor­hood in­side Sin­jar.

On one front, a force of 7,500 pesh­merga launched a ground at­tack on Is­lamic State po­si­tions guard­ing Sin­jar, as U.S. airstrikes hit scores of tar­gets in and around the city. Coali­tion of­fi­cials say some 95 square miles of ter­ri­tory have been re­claimed from the Is­lamic State.

Across the border, Syr­ian Kurds and Arab forces launched an of­fen­sive to cut key roads into Raqqa used for send­ing and re­ceiv­ing sup­plies. Raqqa is the cap­i­tal, spir­i­tual heart and eco­nomic life­line for oper­a­tions in­side the Is­lamic State’s self­styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“We ex­pect that the ISIL forces will be dug in, will have placed de­fen­sive mea­sures, put those in place to try and hold this ground,” said Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Peter Cook. “So we do not ex­pect that this is go­ing to be an easy fight. But we do have con­fi­dence in the Iraqi Kur­dish forces there who have shown their ca­pa­bil­ity in the past.”

The Pen­tagon spokesman said the of­fen­sive oper­a­tions, backed by airstrikes from the U.S. and its al­lies, is “an op­por­tu­nity to deal ISIL a blow.”

“Again, I don’t want to lead you to think that this is go­ing to be an easy fight,” Mr. Cook said. “Ev­ery as­pect of this cam­paign has proven to be chal­leng­ing.”

In­deed, the coali­tion badly needs a vic­tory in a war that top U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged has be­come stale­mated. U.S. of­fi­cers have openly urged Iraqi com­man­ders to launch an of­fen­sive to re­take the Is­lamic State-held city of Ra­madi in the west. But the city, aban­doned when the Iraqi sol­diers de­fend­ing it fled their posts in May, is still in the Is­lamic State’s grip.

In Sin­jar, U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions forces were op­er­at­ing from a hill above the fight­ing, Col. Steven War­ren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coali­tion in Bagh­dad, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. U.S. ad­vis­ers were also po­si­tioned with Kur­dish com­man­ders, set back from the front line and be­hind Sin­jar moun­tain, to re­main away from the cross­fire, the AP re­ported.

In Syria, U.S.-backed rebels have had lit­tle suc­cess, pres­sured by ex­trem­ists such as Is­lamic State and the Rus­sian-backed forces of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan two pro­grams: arms ship­ments di­rectly to mod­er­ate rebels and a plan to insert scores of Amer­i­can com­man­dos to ad­vise them in bat­tle.

Week­end talks in Vi­enna

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry, in an ad­dress in Wash­ing­ton ahead of a new round of talks on a Syria peace deal this week­end in Vi­enna, said Pres­i­dent Obama is not back­ing down from his de­mand that Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad step down as part of any deal to end the coun­try’s bloody civil war. But he said the out­come re­mains un­cer­tain as Rus­sia and — for the first time — Iran join the talks.

Moscow and Tehran have been key back­ers of Mr. As­sad in the con­flict, which has drawn in play­ers from across the re­gion.

“The walls of mis­trust within Syria, within the re­gion and within the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity are thick and high,” Mr. Kerry said. Al­though Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin have clashed over the fate of Mr. As­sad, the U.S., Rus­sia and other coun­tries at the ta­ble “have de­cided not to let that dis­agree­ment pre­vent us from try­ing to build on the com­mon ground we have es­tab­lished,” the sec­re­tary of state said.

A ma­jor ob­jec­tive of the of­fen­sive in Iraq is to take con­trol of High­way 47, the east-west route that links Is­lamic State­held Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city, with Raqqa and other cap­tured land in Syria.

Brett McGurk, the State Depart­ment’s point man on de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State, called the op­er­a­tion a co­or­di­nated ef­fort with Syr­ian Kur­dish and Arab fight­ers ring­ing Raqqa at the same time that Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers con­trol the high­way.

Guy Tay­lor con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle, which is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.


Smoke be­lieved to be from an airstrike bil­lows over Sin­jar in north­ern Iraqi. Kur­dish Iraqi fight­ers, backed by the U.S.-led air cam­paign, launched an as­sault aim­ing to re­take the strate­gic town, which the Is­lamic State over­ran last year.

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