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US-led forces launch 13 air strikes in Iraq, three in Syria, and Kurdish fighters crawling cautiously

By Tajuddin
Dec 21st, 2014
A-18E Super Hornet, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to conduct strike missions against Islamic State group targets, in the Arabian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014

A-18E Super Hornet, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to conduct strike missions against Islamic State group targets, in the Arabian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014

Washington ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – U.S.-led forces attacked Islamic State targets on Sunday with 13 air strikes in Iraq and three in Syria, using fighter, bomber and other aircraft, the U.S. military said.

Four of the Iraq strikes were near Sinjar in the north of the country, which destroyed Islamic State buildings, tactical units and vehicles, while other Iraqi cities targeted included Tal Afar, Ramadi, Mosul and Baiji, according to the Combined Joint Task Force.

The strikes in Syria over the weekend were focused around the contested city of Kobani near the Turkish border, it said in a statement. There were five air strikes near Kobani on Saturday followed by the three on Sunday.

In Iraq, U.S. and partner nations conducted eight air strikes on Saturday, including near Tal Afar, Ar Rutba, Mosul and Baiji, the task force said.

Iraqi Kurds push farther into Sinjar as air strikes destroy Isis strongholds

On Sunday, Iraqi Kurdish fighters pushed their way into Sinjar, which was captured by Isis last summer. Further to the east, near the Syrian border, Iraqi security forces battled Isis as they tried to retake the strategic military airport of Tal Afar.

The battle for Sinjar and the surroundings has become the latest focus in the campaign to take back territory lost during the militants’ summer blitz that captured large swaths of northern and western Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Last week, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched the operation to retake Sinjar and opened up a passageway to Mt Sinjar, which overlooks the town.

The development was an incremental step and helped evacuate some of the thousands of Yazidis trapped on the mountain following the town’s fall in August.

On Sunday, loud explosions and intense gun battles were heard from inside the town as coalition aircraft bombed Isis targets. The president of the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, Masoud Bazani, vowed to crush Isis fighters.

“Most of the districts are under our control,” Barzani told peshmerga troops as he toured their positions on Mt Sinjar. “We will crush the Islamic State.”

At least 15 Kurdish fighters wounded in Sunday’s clashes were brought from the front lines to a makeshift clinic on the mountain.

The spokesman for the Kurdish forces, Jabbar Yawar, said the fighters were still facing resistance from pockets of Isis militants still inside the town and that it is “far from cleared”. He declined to provide more details on the going operation.

Meanwhile, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces launched an offensive Saturday to retake the military airport near the town of Tal Afar from the Isis group, said a Baghdad official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to media. Tal Afar is a mixed Shiite-Sunni city of some 200,000 located strategically near the Syrian border to the east of Sinjar.

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Cost $1 Billion

The cost of U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has topped $1 billion.

“As of Dec. 11, 2014, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on August 8, 2014 is $1.02 billion and the average daily cost is $8.1 million,” said Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Pentagon’s latest statistics show that as of Friday the U.S and its coalition partners had flown 1,371 airstrikes in both countries – 799 in Iraq and 572 in Syria.

American military aircraft have conducted 82 percent of the total number of airstrikes.

Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Thursday at a Pentagon briefing that the airstrikes are having a significant effect on Daesh’s ability “to command and control, to resupply, and to conduct maneuvering.” Daesh is the Arabic name for the ISIS acronym.

Pentagon officials have said that the airstrikes in Iraq target ISIS positions with the intent of supporting Iraqi and Kurdish military ground operations.

An example of that support took place earlier this week as U.S. aircraft conducted 53 airstrikes over two days to help a major offensive by Kurdish Peshmerga troops to retake territory from ISIS in northwestern Iraq.

But the U.S. has also begun carrying out targeted airstrikes against senior ISIS leaders in Iraq. On Thursday U.S. officials confirmed that three senior ISIS leaders had been killed in recent weeks, including ISIS’s top military commander in Iraq.

In Syria, the airstrikes have a strategic goal of degrading ISIS’s ability to sustain itself in both Syria and Iraq. Accordingly, early airstrikes in Syria targeted ISIS’s illicit oil operations and training areas.

But the majority of airstrikes inside Syria have taken place in the northern city of Kobani where U.S. airstrikes have checked a major ISIS effort to take the city.

“As of today, that assault has failed and has resulted in nearly 1,000 ISIL fighters killed, including many leaders,” Brett McGurk told a congressional panel last week. McGurk is one of the Obama administration’s envoys helping to build the international coalition against ISIS.

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