Kurdish forces said they had secured strategic facilities in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Friday as part of an offensive against Islamic State militants that could provide critical momentum in efforts to defeat the jihadist group.
“ISIL defeated and on the run,” the Kurdistan regional security council said in a tweet, using an acronym for Islamic State. It said the peshmerga had secured Sinjar’s wheat silo, cement factory, hospital and several other public buildings.
Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes and volunteers from Iraq’s Yazidi minority, which has suffered atrocities at the hands of Islamic State, entered Sinjar on Friday after cutting it off from east and west.
The Kurdistan council said peshmerga forces had entered Sinjar “from all directions” to begin clearing remaining insurgents. A Reuters correspondent saw hundreds of peshmerga fighters walking into the town and along a main road without facing immediate resistance.
It was not clear whether Islamic State militants had withdrawn ahead of the operation, but Kurdish commanders expressed concerns that some were hiding and would blow themselves up as the peshmerga advanced.
The number of Islamic State fighters in the town had risen to nearly 600 in the run-up to the offensive, but only a handful were left in Sinjar on Friday, said Brigadier General Seme Mala Mohammed of the Kurdish peshmerga.
Reuters could not independently verify his account.
Since the campaign began on Thursday morning, the Kurds have captured more than 150 square km (58 square miles) of territory around Sinjar from Islamic State, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria and has affiliates in Libya and Egypt.
The jihadist group, made up of Iraqis and other Arabs as well as foreign fighters, poses the biggest security threat to OPEC oil producer Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.