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Iraqi Kurdish Forces Declare Success In Ousting ISIS From Sinjar

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The city of Sinjar in northwest Iraq has been occupied since last year by the Islamic State. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled, thousands more have been killed by ISIS gunmen - many of them members of a religious minority called the Yazidi. But the occupation of Sinjar may be coming to an end. Iraqi Kurdish forces with U.S. air support began an assault yesterday. We're going now to speak with reporter Susannah George of the Associated Press who is with the Kurd offensive. Where are you now, and what's happening?

SUSANNAH GEORGE: We are actually driving back up Mount Sinjar. We were just with Kurdish forces, one of the first groups to enter Sinjar since the operation began yesterday. We were told by Kurdish Peshmerga officials that thousands of Kurdish forces entered Sinjar from the east, west, and northern fronts. We walked in with a group of a few hundred through one of the main kind of north-south roads through the town.

WERTHEIMER: So does it look like the Kurds are in charge in Sinjar now?

GEORGE: We spoke to one major with the Peshmerga who said that he thought it was too early to declare the operation a success. But he did say that the town was mostly under Peshmerga control, but some threats still remain.

WERTHEIMER: Now as I understand it, the objective of this offensive was partly to relieve the people of the city of Sinjar but also to cut ISIS supply lines to Mosul. Has any of that been accomplished, do you think?

GEORGE: When you speak to coalition officials with the U.S.-led coalition, they are very quick to say that one of the true objectives of this operation was cutting that supply line, and that was achieved yesterday. When you talk to Peshmerga fighters, they say that the objective was to liberate Sinjar from the presence of the Islamic State so that they can return to their home.

WERTHEIMER: What have U.S. forces been doing?

GEORGE: Yesterday was a very intense bombardment of Sinjar. We were along the front line. It was around six airstrikes per hour that we saw and heard. We did see one small group of coalition troops who were confirming and calling in airstrikes yesterday near the front lines. We know that away from the front lines there is some intelligence sharing and much closer coordination that happens at bases of operation.

WERTHEIMER: So U.S. troops and their allies appear to be trying to manage at least air support?

GEORGE: Yes, definitely. They're leading - definitely leading air support and trying to do so in a way that helps Kurdish troops take that territory in a way that they can hold onto it.

WERTHEIMER: I remember that we did a lot of reporting about Mount Sinjar being a refuge of sorts for Yazidi. They were going up the mountain and hiding up there. Do you see any of those people? Are they coming down now?

GEORGE: There are still displaced Yazidis living in tents and makeshift shelters on top of Mount Sinjar, just within sight of the town of Sinjar. We haven't seen these people come down, but a lot of the Peshmerga fighters are units of Yazidi fighters. And we spoke to some fighters today who are from Sinjar, who are based on one of the front lines where they could see they're only about 300 meters from their hometown. And they were hoping to be one of the first groups to walk into the town today.

WERTHEIMER: Susannah George is with the Associated Press. She spoke to us from near Sinjar in Iraq. Susannah, thank you very much..

GEORGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.