BADRIYAH: Kurdish Peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive on Monday against militants after retaking the country largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement.
The recapture of Mosul Dam marks the biggest prize yet clawed back from the Islamic State (IS) group since it launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in June, sweeping the security forces aside.
US aircraft were carrying out strikes in support of the forces battling the militants.
Militants from the same group also came under attack in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa by that country’s air force for the second day.
In Iraq, “the planes are striking and the Peshmerga are advancing,” a Kurdish fighter told AFP near the shore of the lake formed by the vast dam.
Journalists heard jets flying overhead and saw smoke rising from the site of a strike that a Peshmerga member said had targeted one of the entrances to the dam.
Fighting also broke out in an area south of the barrage while engineering teams worked to clear booby traps and bombs left by militants, Kawa Khatari, a leader of Iraq’s main Kurdish party, said.
A senior Peshmerga officer said there was sporadic fighting with militants in the town of Tal Kayf, southeast of the dam, and that only a “small number” of remained in the area of the dam.
Iraqi security spokesman Lt Gen Qassem Atta said the dam had been entirely liberated in a joint operation by the “anti-terrorism forces and Peshmerga forces with aerial support”.
He said on state television that fighting was continuing in adjoining facilities.
The dam breakthrough came after US warplanes and drones carried out their heaviest-yet bombing against IS militants in the north since they began launching air strikes on Aug 8.
The US Central Command reported that the military had carried out 14 air strikes on Sunday near the dam located on the Tigris river, which provides electricity and irrigation water to much of the region.
US President Barack Obama told Congress that the “limited” air strikes he has authorised on Iraq to support the fight for the dam protected US interests there.
“The failure of the Mosul dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger US personnel and facilities, including the US embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” he said.
The IS also faced air strikes on the Syrian side of the border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In Raqa province, the Syrian air force carried out at least 14 raids against militant positions, a day after launching 16 strikes which killed at least 31 militants and eight civilians.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron described the IS fighters sweeping across Syria and Iraq as a direct threat to Britain and said all available tools must be used to halt their advance.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said that while it would not be right to send an army into Iraq, some degree of military involvement was justified due to the threat that an expanding “terrorist state” would pose to Europe and its allies.
His Defence Minister Michael Fallon said in comments published on Monday that Britain’s involvement now went beyond a humanitarian mission and was set to last for months.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2014
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