Kurdish forces launched a fresh push against areas held by the Islamic State group around Mosul on Thursday, pressing an offensive to retake the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq.
AFP reporters said peshmerga forces from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, attacked villages near Bashiqa at dawn, reports BSS.
In the village of Nawaran, Iranian Kurdish rebels from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) were also involved in the assault, some of them at the very front of the fighting.
The peshmerga command issued a statement saying the “large-scale operation” was launched at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) north and northeast of Mosul.
“The objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s movements,” it said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
It said the operation had three different fronts and was “designed to tighten the noose” around IS in Mosul following recent gains by peshmerga and Iraqi federal forces east and south of the city.
Peshmerga forces brought down two drones IS was attempting to fly above the battlefield, presumably to gather information about the Kurdish deployment.
An AFP reporter saw one of them after it was brought down. The Raven RQ-11B drone, a small unmanned aircraft originally developed for the US military, was apparently not rigged with explosives.
“These drones belong to IS… So we shot this drone and brought it down, as you can see the peshmerga destroyed it,” said General Aziz Weysi, commander of the peshmerga’s elite “Zaravani” task force.
“These drones can do observation and can explode. They sent this one but it did not explode,” he said.
The commander said it was similar to a booby-trapped drone that killed two peshmerga and wounded two French soldiers in the Kurdish region last week.
Amid growing concern IS is seeking to increase its use of weaponised drones, US defence officials said the military was deploying additional anti-drone technologies to the theatre, including systems that provide electronic jamming.
Peshmerga commanders said the immediate aim of the operation launched on Thursday morning was to cut Bashiqa off from Mosul and attack the town later in the day or on Friday.
Iraqi Kurdish and federal forces launched their much-awaited offensive against Mosul on Monday, seeking to recapture the northern metropolis which has been held by the Islamic State group since June 2014.
It was where IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria that month. Its loss is widely predicted to deal a death blow to the group’s ambitions as a land-holding force in Iraq but senior commanders have warned the battle could last months.
Bashiqa is the area where Turkey controversially has several hundred troops stationed. Ankara, a key ally of the ruling party in Iraqi Kurdistan, has said it wants to take part in operations against IS but Baghdad is under huge public pressure to reject Turkish military presence on Iraqi soil.