Kurdish Forces Launch Offensive to Retake Sinjar From ISIS

Kurdish forces, with U.S. air support, have launched an offensive to cut off a key supply route between Syria and Iraq for the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), the New York Times reports.

Some 7,500 Kurdish peshmerga fighters are preparing to attempt to retake the town of Sinjar, in western Iraq, according to a statement from the security council of the Kurdish autonomous region. ISIS took control of Sinjar in August 2014, massacring thousands of people of the ancient Yazidi religion and taking Yazidi women as sex slaves.

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani is overseeing the offensive and has the backing of U.S. airstrikes. Kurdish officials have recently appealed for more equipment and support from the U.S.-led coalition in the battle against ISIS.

The BBC reported that the offensive—titled "Operation Free Sinjar"—began at dawn on Thursday, with coalition airstrikes sending plumes of smoke into the air around the town.

If the peshmerga forces retake Sinjar, they will cut off a major supply route of arms and fighters between ISIS's Syrian headquarters of Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Kurdish officials estimate that some 700 ISIS fighters could be entrenched in Sinjar and expect the militants to use improvised explosive devices and suicide car bombs to try to halt the offensive.

"We have made our plans, but not everything goes according to plan," said Major General Aziz Waisi, commander of one of the Kurdish forces leading the offensive.

The campaign to dislodge ISIS in Syria and Iraq has slowed recently, with the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force saying that "boots on the ground" are required to ultimately defeat the militant group.