Kurdish forces took over parts of Iraq's largest dam on Sunday less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State extremist group, Kurdish security officials said, as U.S. and Iraqi planes aided their advance by bombing militant targets near the facility.
The U.S. began targeting Islamic State fighters with airstrikes a little over a week ago, allowing Kurdish forces to fend off an advance on their regional capital Irbil and to help tens of thousands of members of religious minorities escape the extremists' onslaught.
Recapturing the dam would be a significant victory against the Islamic State group, which has seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria. The dam on the Tigris supplies electricity and water for irrigation to a large part of the country.
The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, launched the operation early Sunday to retake the Mosul Dam, Gen. Tawfik Desty, a Kurdish commander, told The Associated Press. He said his forces now control the eastern part of the dam and that fighting is still underway.
Another commander said Kurdish forces later were hindered by roadside bombs planted by retreating Islamic State fighters. He added that peshmerga forces had taken the nearby town of Tel Kasouf by Sunday morning.
"They are advancing slowly. The obstacles are the roadside bombs. It's a Daash tactic," he said, referring to the Islamic State by an Arabic acronym. The commander spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
"They have reached inside the dam. There is no fighting, just the (roadside) bombs, and the abandoned buildings are all rigged with explosives," he said. "We will continue to advance and advance until we are given further instruction."
He said the peshmerga are now waiting for 15 Iraqi military Humvees with mechanized bomb-disposal units. He said some of the explosives had been placed in abandoned buildings by Iraqi troops in an earlier bid to stall the militants' advance.
On Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said nine airstrikes had been launched near the dam, destroying four armoured personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and another armoured vehicle.
The peshmerga are the fighting force of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Years of troubled relations between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad has hindered the supply of arms to the force, leaving them overstretched and outgunned in the face of the initial advance by the Islamic State group.