Supported by US-led airstrikes, Kurdish peshmerga forces launched a new offensive Wednesday aimed at retaking Iraqi territories conquered by the Islamic State (IS) militia group this past summer.
The new Kurdish offensive targeted areas in the Diyala and Kirkuk provinces in Iraq, according to peshmerga spokesman Jaber Yawe. The regions had been conquered by IS militia forces during an offensive this past August that saw the terror group take control of a third of Iraq.
As part of the offensive, Kurdish peshmerga fighters, working with Iraqi security forces took control of the towns of Saadiya and Jalulaa in Diyala. In Kirkuk province, Kurds backed by coalition airstrikes launched attacks aimed at retaking territory near the town of Karbaroot,, 35 kilometers west of the city of Kirkuk.
Erdogan chides US
The new offensive comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan works to finalize details of a plan that would see his country train rebels to combat the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey has been reluctant to aid the Kurds fighting IS in the besieged city of Kobani out of fears of enhancing Kurdish ambitions for an independent state within Turkey.
Erdogan also criticized the United States Wednesday for in his view failing to meet his country's conditions to play a larger role in the anti-IS coalition in Syria.
Turkey has claimed it will only step up its role in the fight against IS if a coherent strategy is developed to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including a secured zone along its border with Syria, and the training of members of the Free Syrian Army to fight the Assad regime.
"From the no-fly zone to the safety zone, and training and equipping, all these steps have to be taken now," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara Wednesday. "But the coalition forces haven't taken the steps we asked them for, or suggested to them."
France sends jets, airstrikes continue
Meanwhile, France announced Wednesday that its jets had hit Islamic state targets near the city of Kirkuk as part of the new offensive, adding that it would also be sending six more fighter jets to Jordan in order to reinforce its air offensive against the militant group.
French parliamentary defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that despite the success of the airstrikes, which created "a breach in the defensive positions" held by IS, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters still face serious attacks.
"French air forces will be strengthened. There were nine Rafale (jets) in the United Arab Emirates and they will be reinforced with six Mirage fighter jets to be placed in Jordan to support our action," Le Drian said.
The United States Central Command said that the coalition has conducted 24 airstrikes against IS militants in Iraq since Monday, with the majority taking place near the city of Kirkuk. In Syria, the coalition also carried out six airstrikes against IS and one against the al Qaeda splinter group "Khorasan."
The Islamic State terror group has declared an Islamic caliphate in the areas it has conquered, which include swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. The group has brutalized ethnic and religious minorities and carried out mass killings, including a recently released video showing the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig.
Two French citizens were determined to be among the militants in that video. The French government has identified them as Maxime Hauchard and Mickael Dos Santos, both 22, and who are said to have left for Syria in August 2013.
bw/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)