Turkey hits ISIS in Iraq following Kurdish request

Kurdistan has informed US Defense Secretary Ash Carter that its fighters had taken the town of Bashiqa near Mosul

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Turkish artillery has hit militant positions in the northern Iraqi city of Bashiqa near Mosul after Kurdish Peshmerga forces asked for support, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised comments Sunday.

“They (Peshmerga) asked for help from our soldiers at Bashiqa base. We are providing support with artillery, tanks and howitzers, Yildirim told reporters in western Turkey.

At the base, Ankara says some 700 Turkish soldiers are training Iraqi fighters to help remove ISIS from the country.

Earlier, Kurdish fighters said they had taken Bashiqa from ISIS on Sunday as coalition forces pressed their offensive against the militants’ last stronghold in Iraq.

A US official said Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish Region, had informed US Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from ISIS.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters told reporters at the scene they had entered Bashiqa, but journalists were not being allowed into the town.

As the Pentagon chief went into talks with Barzani, US officials said Kurdish peshmerga forces had almost reached their goals in the week-old offensive.

The battle plan is for the peshmerga forces to stop along a line at an average of 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of the city of Mosul, ISIS’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

“They are pretty much there,” a US military official said Saturday when Carter was holding meetings in Baghdad.

Elite federal forces are then expected to take the lead and breach into the city proper, where more than a million civilians are still believed to be living.

That peshmerga line of control, mostly on the northern and eastern fronts, “will be solidified in the next day or two,” the official said.

The United States leads a 60-nation coalition -- which also includes Britain and France -- that has provided key support in the form of thousands of air strikes, training to Iraqi forces and advisers on the ground.

Kurdish forces are currently engaged in a huge push around the ISIS-held town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul.

They gained significant ground on the eastern front in the first days of the offensive, which was launched on Oct. 17.

In Baghdad, Carter praised the peshmerga and “the way their efforts are completely coordinated with the ISF (Iraqi security forces).”

The coordination between Baghdad and Erbil, at odds over Kurdish independence and oil revenue, had been one of the key question marks ahead of the offensive.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition, noted on Saturday that, while progress in the offensive was satisfactory, militant resistance was stiff.

“The resistance is about as broad as expected,” he said in Baghdad.

“It’s pretty significant, we are talking about enemy indirect fire, multiple IEDs (improvised explosive devices), multiple VBIED (vehicle-borne IEDs) each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles, so it’s been very tough fighting, snipers, machineguns,” he said.

US military officials have revised their estimate slightly upward for the number of ISIS fighters involved in the Mosul theater.

They believe the ISIS group is defending its stronghold of Mosul, where the “caliphate" was proclaimed in June 2014, with 3,000 to 5,000 fighters inside the city and 1,000 to 2,000 spread out on the outskirts.

A French government official told AFP the breach into Mosul, which could mark the beginning of a phase of fierce street battles with ISIS, could still be a month away.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi military spokesman said troops have repelled an ISIS on a western town, describing it as a bid to divert attention from the massive military operation to retake Mosul.

The spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said ISIS militants attacked Rutba, in the sprawling desert province of Anbar, early Sunday. He said at least three suicide car bombs were blown up before reaching their targets and some militants were killed. He declined to say whether any civilians or Iraqi forces were killed.

He said the militants did not seize any government buildings and that the situation “is under control.”

(With Reuters, AFP)

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