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Kurdish Peshmerga Forces Attempt To Retake Sinjar From ISIS


Forces opposed to ISIS have begun a long-awaited large-scale offensive today. They're attacking ISIS in northern Iraq, and they're doing it with American air support.


Many of the U.S. allies on the ground are ethnic Kurds who live in northern Iraq and Syria. Reporter Michael Gordon of The New York Times has been traveling with the Kurdish forces who are known as peshmerga.

MICHAEL GORDON: They're moving on multiple routes - east, west and center - with the aim of cutting the highway that links Syria to Mosul and also retaking Sinjar.

INSKEEP: Sinjar - that's a city devastated when ISIS captured it last year. it lies on a road leading into the ISIS-held city of Mosul, meaning that cutting the road would cut off Islamic State supply lines. What have you been able to see and hear as this offensive has begun?

GORDON: Well, primarily what we've seen is large clouds of black smoke - thick, black smoke - emanating from the outskirts of Sinjar, clearly done by American aircraft - probably A10s. And you can hear the explosions, and you hear the roar of jets overhead. And then the Kurdish peshmerga forces are moving along these really torturous mountain roads - some of them are not even roads - moving towards the town and moving towards the highway. And they're moving in everything. They're moving in buses and SUVs and pickup trucks, their smattering of armored vehicles. Right now, there's - we've stopped briefly on the side of a road, and they're playing some kind of loud, Kurdish music. And everyone here is kind of relaxed 'cause we haven't quite gotten the objective yet.

INSKEEP: How well-armed are the Kurdish forces? It sounds like their vehicles, at least, are not what would be American standards.

GORDON: They're not as well-equipped as the Islamic State. I mean, they're mostly equipped with small arms, AK-47s, mortars. Germany's given them a lot of antitank weapons. The U.S. has given them AT-4s. Those are really important because that's what they use to try to stop the suicide vehicles that the Islamic State employees, but the peshmerga say they don't really have enough of them. This is a pretty lightly equipped force which would not be able to survive in a toe-to-toe fight with the Islamic State if it wasn't for American air power.

INSKEEP: When you say that they're not as well-armed as the Islamic State - has the Islamic State succeeded, then, in taking large amounts of captured Iraqi weapons from the Iraqi army and put them to use?

GORDON: They've succeeded in taking large amounts of captured American weapons from the Iraqi army and putting them to use.


GORDON: I mean, when they talk Mosul, they took Humvees and all sorts of American equipment. And then, of course, they use a lot of conventional military tactics. They've dug trenches. They've laid minefield that have IEDs. They booby-trapped houses. They don't have an air force, though.

INSKEEP: Do you have any sense of the size of the fighting forces on either side?

GORDON: The peshmerga have announced they have more than 7,000. I been told that there's more than, you know, a thousand Yazidi fighters as part of the peshmerga fighting force. But then there's some players in this drama who are not an official part of this force. For example, the Kurdish separatist YPG force, which is in Syria, is also on the Iraqi side of the border, and they're determined to play some kind of role. So the politics of this part of the world is pretty complicated. There's definitely going to be a day after issue - who controls this part of the world the day after? But right now, the goal is just to retake a town that's probably laced with IEDs, house bombs, suicide bombers and to cut a highway that the Islamic State going to defend with counterattacks, probably out of some of the surrounding towns and cities. So this is not a one-day operation. And then it's going to take a while for them to hold it and to make sure that ISIS doesn't mount a counterattack.

INSKEEP: Michael Gordon of The New York Times in northern Iraq. Thanks very much.

GORDON: OK. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.