KIRKUK, Kurdistan (Rudaw) — A massive and ongoing Peshmerga offensive against the Islamic State in territory south of Kirkuk has so far resulted in heavy casualties and the liberation of five villages.
The total death toll has yet to be assessed, but in one village alone, Peshmerga forces found 18 dead ISIS militants Wednesday, officials said.
The offensive was launched on the Daquq and Khurmatu frontlines with heavy artillery, including several tanks.
“Our plan has been successfully completed and we have control of most of the villages we were planning to take,” Mustafa Sayid Qadir, minister of Peshmerga, told Rudaw Wednesday.
United States-led coalition airstrikes bombed jihadist bases in the villages late last night, and the Kurdish fighters began sweeping them around 5 am Wednesday morning with further support from coalition warplanes.
The road connecting the villages was laced with hundreds of landmines, according to officials, which complicated the recapture of the villages.
Peshmerga fighter Ahmed Aziz Mustafa was killed as the result of a landmine explosion, confirmed Amin Karim, a Peshmerga captain, to Rudaw. Mustafa was an only son and a father of three.
In addition, five Hashd al-Shaabi fighters were killed in today’s fighting, said Kirkuk police Chief Sarhad Qader.
The road connecting the villages was still gridlocked with tanks and other military vehicles late into the afternoon. Fires continued to smolder throughout the villages, sending smoke into the air.
Around 3 pm, gunshots and mortar fire could be heard to the south.
“ISIS is attacking us now,” said a Peshmerga captain who asked to remain anonymous. “When the Peshmerga came to clean out villages, they didn’t use deadly force because of the civilians present.”
At a village called Semaqa, nearby the ISIS base in Albu Najm, more than 50 women, children and young boys crowded an area patrolled by Peshmerga.
Peshmerga fighters said they were all villagers affiliated with ISIS and would not allow media to speak with them. A 50-year-old woman named Amal Mahmud Saif who was part of the group said that she was in a nearby village merely for a visit.
Despite the casualties and complications, the Peshmerga said they largely considered the offensive successful.
“With recapturing this village, there will be no ISIS thread to Kirkuk anymore,” said Kosrat Rasul Ali, the deputy commander of Peshmerga.