Iraqi forces break jihadist siege of Amerli

Last Updated 31 August 2014, 12:46 IST

Iraqi forces broke through to the jihadist-besieged town of Amerli today, where thousands of people have been trapped for more than two months with dwindling food and water, officials said.

"Our forces entered Amerli and broke the siege," Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta told AFP.

Talib al-Bayati, an official responsible for a nearby area, also said that the siege of the Turkmen Shiite-majority town has been broken, as did Nihad al-Bayati, who had been fighting to defend the town against the jihadists.

Iraqi security forces, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga fighters all took part in the operation, which was launched yesterday after days of preparations in which the various forces deployed for the assault and Iraqi aircraft carried out strikes against militants.

Thousands of people had been trapped in Amerli since June, when jihadist-led militants launched a major offensive that overran chunks of five Iraqi provinces, sweeping security forces aside.

While forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region have previously made gains in the north with backing from American air strikes, the Amerli operation was the first major offensive success for the federal government since the conflict began.

Residents of Amerli faced major shortages of food and water, and were in danger both because of their Shiite faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.

The United States announced that it carried out three air strikes in the Amerli area, the first time its more than three-week air campaign against jihadists in Iraq has been expanded outside the north.

And aircraft from the United States, Australia, France and the United Kingdom also dropped humanitarian aid to the town, the Pentagon announced yesterday.

Western aid for Amerli was slow in coming, however, with the burden of flying supplies and carrying out strikes in the area largely falling to Iraq's fledging air forces.

Pressure had been mounting from both inside and outside the country for an effort to help Amerli, with the UN envoy to Iraq warning that people there faced a "possible massacre" by the besieging militants. 

(Published 31 August 2014, 12:45 IST)

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