ARBIL, August 18 – Kurdish fighters backed by US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive against jihadists Monday after retaking Iraq‘s largest dam alongside federal forces, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement.
The recapture of Mosul dam marks the biggest prize yet clawed back from Islamic State (IS) jihadists since they launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in June, sweeping Iraqi security forces aside.
US aircraft carried out strikes on Saturday and Sunday in support of the forces battling to retake the dam from IS militants, who have declared a “caliphate” straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
On Sunday, IS militants also came under attack in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa by Syria’s air force.
Fighting on Monday erupted in an area south of the Mosul dam while engineering teams worked to clear booby traps and bombs left by jihadists, said Kawa Khatari, an official from Iraq‘s main Kurdish party.
Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta confirmed on Monday that Mosul dam was entirely liberated in a joint operation by Iraqi “anti-terrorism forces and peshmerga forces with aerial support”.
– Fighting in residential compound –
Atta added on state television that while the dam had been retaken, fighting was continuing in adjoining facilities including a residential compound.
The Mosul dam breakthrough came after US warplanes and drones at the weekend carried out their heaviest yet bombing against IS militants in the north since they began launching air strikes on August 8.
The US Central Command reported that the military had carried out 14 air strikes Sunday near the dam located on the Tigris river, which provides electricity and irrigation water for farming to much of the region.
Sunday’s strikes destroyed 10 IS armed vehicles, seven IS Humvees, two armoured personnel carriers and one IS checkpoint.
That military action followed nine US strikes near Arbil and Mosul dam on Saturday.
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.
Highlighting the stakes at hand, Obama said: “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.”
IS also faced air strikes on the Syrian side of the border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.