Iraqi forces mount operation against ISIS in Tikrit

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been encouraged by the first U.S. air strikes launched against the Sunni insurgents

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Iraqi forces launched an operation on Tuesday to drive fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) out of Tikrit, hometown of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein, officers in the operations room said, according to Reuters news agency.

They were advancing rapidly from the south but were slowed by landmines, roadside bombs and snipers in the west, an army major and a police captain said.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been encouraged by the first U.S. air strikes in the country - launched against the hardline Sunni insurgents - since American troops withdrew in 2011.

Humanitarian aid

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency said it was launching a major aid operation to get supplies to more than half a million people displaced by fighting in northern Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since fighters from ISIS swept through much of the north and west of Iraq in June, threatening to break up the country.

A four-day airlift of tents and other goods will begin on Wednesday to Arbil, Iraq from Aqaba in Jordan, followed by road convoys from Turkey and Jordan and sea shipments from Dubai via Iran over the next 10 days, Adrian Edwards, the spokesperson for UNHCR, said.

“This is a very, very significant aid push and certainly one of the largest I can recall in quite a while,” he said during a news briefing in Geneva.

“This is a major humanitarian crisis and disaster,” Edwards said.

The UNHCR estimates that a total of 1.2 million have fled their homes across Iraq this year.