Kurdish Fighters cut Road between ISIL centers of Raqqa and Mosul

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Al-Arabiya reports that the Security Council in Iraqi Kurdistan has announced that their paramilitary, the Peshmerga have taken 150 square kilometers of the city of Sinjar from Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) and has the entire city surrounded. Some sources say that 70% of the city has fallen to them.

The Peshmerga say that they have set up security checkpoints along the route that connects Daesh-dominated Mosul in north Iraq to the Daesh capita of Raqqa in Syria.

The US military announced that they had given the Peshmerga air support and had killed dozens of the Daesh extremists.

The Kurds said that they intended to take the city of Sinjar, which has a large Kurdish population, and establish a safety zone around it that would protect it from Daesh artillery fire.

On Wednesday night, some 7500 Peshmerga troops converged on Sinjar in a convoy along with Yazidi fighters from nearby Mt. Sinjar (liberated from Daesh rule by the Peshmerga last winter). The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat [“Life”] reports that a third force, Syrian Kurds of the far left YPG or People’s Protection Units also are taking part in the campaign. There is a dispute whether there is participation by Yazidi members of the PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party that is fighting an insurgency in Turkey. The Peshmerga commander denies this allegation. The US and Turkey consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

Al-Hayat also reveals that there have been clashes between the Peshmerga and the Turkmen militia at nearby Tuz Khurmato.

Altogether, some 20,000 Peshmerga troops are expected to participate in this campaign. The Iraqi army is sitting it out, a datum for which I have seen no explanation.

Daesh has some 600 fighters in the town of Sinjar, having brought reinforcements in the last few months as the Kurdish campaign was delayed for several months, in part by disagreements between the Peshmerga from the Kurdistan Regional Government and Yazidi fighters from Mt. Sinjar, as well as by poor visibility for the US Air force.

The campaign is being personally supervised by Massoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, who has been accused of having authoritarian tendencies (his term as president has actually ended but no new elections have been held.)

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Related video:

CNN: ” Kurdish forces fight to take back Sinjar from ISIS”

11 Responses

  1. Daesh should have no fear as our good “allies” Turkey and Saudi Arabia will soon start bombing the Kurdish forces!!!!!

  2. Seeeing that Kurdish column rolling along a highway shows how vulnerable an attacking or reinforcing force would be to an airstrike. Yet ISIS have been driving up and down those roads for nearly a year and a half. How did they manage that?

    Now the road has been cut. After nearly 18 months? Finally some progress from the coalition.

    Surely nothing to do with the Russian involvement and Syrian army advances?

    • Its not like you think. They usually move in civilian vehicles or amongst civilians. They do not employ massive convoys for the reasons you mention.

      • Maybe. Or the coalition could have seen the ISIL vehicles heading to Palmyra and ignored them because the Syrian regime held Palmyra. The coalition goal is two fold – defeat of ISIS, overthrow of Assad. Attacking ISIL could sometimes be defending the Syrian army – was this a reason why Palmyra fell?

  3. I have some doubts as to the importance of cutting Iraqi route 47 through Sinjar by the Peshmerga. The continuation of route 47 into Syria is little more than a track following an old railroad grade until it connects with Syrian route 715 some distance to the southwest. However, route 715, From Ash Shaddadi, Syria, connects almost directly with the Syrian/Iraqi border to the east. It is possible to travel via farm roads from their through Al-Baaj, Iraq, and encounter the north/south road to Tel Afar, thus skirting most of route 47 to the south. Foreign Policy indicates that such a southern route has already been constructed by ISIS/ISIL .(link to foreignpolicy.com)
    Thus, I wouldn’t lay much import on route 47 being a major supply route for ISIS/ISIL.

  4. “On Wednesday night, some 7500 Peshmerga troops converged on Sinjar in a convoy along with Yazidi fighters from nearby Mt. Sinjar”
    Plus US air strikes

    “Daesh has some 600 fighters in the town of Sinjar”
    with no air strike capability

    Considering that Daesh has occupied Sinjar for 15 months, how do they do it with an almost trivial force? Some news reports say there was no Daesh opposition at all to the city’s capture. And there was extensive damage from the airstrikes .

    I agree with all the epithets and pejoratives hurled at Daesh, but given their remarkable ability to survive against far larger forces, seems we aught to be engaging it as a nation state rather than a bunch of terrorist rabble.

    • Traditionally, about a 10-1 ratio of attackers to dug-in troops is needed, exp. if the defenders have food, water and ammo. This siege ratio goes all the way back to Chinese general and tactician Sun Tsu around 500 BC (The Art of War). Sieges take time and many resources to complete. Remember the Alamo, where 189 defenders held off a force of some 1,500 to up to 4-6,000 in the end for two weeks. It’s a deadly game and those with cover, a range of booby traps and clear shooting alleys can hold out a long time.

    • Quite the opposite. The more you are like a real nation-state, the more vulnerable you become to conventional weapons, because states are all about machinery, infrastructure and organization, preferably competent, to meet the demands of their constituents. Guerrilla and terrorist groups evade all that tedious responsibility, and thus are invisible to tanks and airstrikes.

  5. The Iraqi army is sitting it out, a datum for which I have seen no explanation.

    The Iraqi Army can’t get there. Based on current maps they’d need to continue their drive up Highway 1 and then turn west into the sand to link up with the Kurds. The other alternative is to go way around east past the lump of Sunni territory held by Daesh east of Mosul (& Highway 1) and then keep traveling all the way around to back to Mt. Sinjar.

    No point to it. The Iraqi army seem to have shifted their main effort towards Anbar (and they seem to have quite a fight on their hands). The alternative would to continue the drive up Highway 1 until they got near Tel Afar or continue going towards Mosul. But they seem to have stalled out once they took Baiji.

    Which is a problem, but that’s no reason to hold up the Kurds. FP seems to be suggesting driving east from Sinjar towards Mosul, but that’s silly – they would be leaving their back door open and not gaining much since they could just try going head into Mosul from the direction of Irbil.

    Better to keep going south and completely cut the Daesh lines to Tel Afar and Mosul, and either fortify or advance down down 47 to complete a linkup with YPG. In particular, I would take Wardiya, Ain Fathi, and Baa’j would render most Daesh transit to west unworkable. Add in the junction of 47 and the border road to the west and they should be able to seal up their rear with a minimum number of troops. (Let Daesh bang on the door and get bombed would be my theory.)

    They could go ahead and take Ibrat Ash Shaghirah from the west and take Tel Afar from the north (supposedly they had it already) and in particular seize Tal Afar air field.

    I think the Kurds are already holding the junction of Highway 1 and 47, so my preference would be a goal of bagging Masad, Sirwal, Ayn al-Jahesh in the way to seizing (if possible) the junction of Highway 1 and 3. That would allow a direct drive down Highway 3 to the bridge and the Kurdish (eastern front line).

    (I’m not trying to minimize the difficulty doing this, but if the Kurds can push army across some crappy road and desert to Highway 1 & 3, they’ll have cut Mosul off from supply & reinforcement completely. Take the west side of the 3 bridge back from Daesh and they’ve got open short supply lines to their spearheads. From that position, they can collapse the pocket around Mosul down to the outskirts of town, which leaves the Daesh fighters in Mosul in dire trouble and running out of ammo (food, gas, maybe water). They could drive straight down Highway 1 towards (eventually) Baiji.)

    max
    [‘We need to get some more armor to the Kurds, I think.’]

  6. The fling at the Iraqi Army is unjustified. They’ve had their bad moments, but they have secured Baghdad, re-taken Tikrit and Baiji, cleared the area around Ramadi (and now look to take the city itself), held Hadithi and so on. As Gen Rupert Smith pointed out, the defense now has extraordinary advantages given that urban areas are so extensive and weapons like RPGs and IEDs so plentiful. If the enemies ISIS generates on every side each do their bit, it can’t last long (although it will go down hard).

  7. It should be noted that the best paved road continuing route 47 through Syria passes to the northwest through Al Hawl and Hasakah, which are now under YPG control. Thus, this route from Al Raqqa to Mosul has been cut in multiple locations. Surely the Peshmerga knew that ISIS/ISIL, when confronted with such a large force, would flee Sinjar to the south, toward Al-Baaj and Ain Fathi. Yet, nothing was done to intercept the roads toward Al-Baaj and Ain Fathi south of Sinjar. This may have been intentionally on the part of Barzani so that he could win a political victory at little cost (notice the huge banners, prepared in advance, to celebrate the victory). Rather than pursue the fleeing ISIS/ISIL, Barzani’s Peshmerga chose to stay put and celebrate their victory (I suspect that a few Peshmerga officers were chagrined by this). Max (above) is in my opinion correct; the Peshmerga should push on south to take Ain Fathi and Al_Baaj, thus more completely cutting ISIS/ISIL in the Tigris from ISIS/ISIL on the Euphates. However, the Barzanis, I fear, are more interested in making a political statement than a strategic one (and, to be fair, the region south of Sinjar is largely Arabic and thus more hostile). I suspect the next move to cut ISIS/ISIL supply lines will be the attack on Ash Shaddadi by the YPG and their Arab allies in Syria, perhaps in two to three months. Yet, Ash Shaddadi is deep in Syrian Arab territory, so it would represent a new direction, at least for the YPG.

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