ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish forces backed by coalition airstrikes have cut a critical ISIS supply route to Syria and now have the remaining extremists surrounded as fierce fighting continues in the town of Shingal.
Rudaw correspondent Hevidar Ahmed said late Thursday afternoon that Kurdish fighters are now advancing from all sides of the ISIS defenders.
“The Peshmerga have captured the main ISIS supply line on the Baaj-Shingal road and the ISIS militants inside Shingal are all surrounded with no way to escape,” Ahmed said from the battlefield.
Peshmerga commander Zaim Ali, was more grim in his assessment of the situation.
"They will all be killed," Ali told Rudaw.
An update released by the security council of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said that by early afternoon the Peshmerga had secured a stretch of Highway 47 to the west of the town, cutting the extremists roadway into Syria.
The announcement also said the Kurdish forces had captured the same highway to the east of town, severing the route to ISIS-held Tal Afar.
Now surrounded, the jihadist fighters began launching car bombs at the advancing Peshmerga. Running gun battles were reportedly underway in the eastern part of Shingal.
“Five VBIEDs [Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices] have been destroyed: four by international coalition airstrikes and the other by Peshmerga forces using Milan anti-tank rockets. VBIEDs continue to be mobilized against our forces in a desperate attempt to slow down the offensive,” the KRG statement read.
The announcement said that radio chatter of an ISIL leader was heard instructing the terrorists to stay and fight in Shingal and warning that any extremist who flees the battlefield will be killed.
“Approximately 30 ISIL terrorists have been killed in all fronts,” the statement said.
Earlier, Rudaw correspondents reported street battles in the western part of town where ISIS was counter-attacking with car bombs, mortars and machine guns.
Peshmerga engineers and de-mining teams continue to work ahead of the Kurdish advance to reduce the risk of mines and other ISIS explosives.
Ahmed Shawqi, a Kurdish military expert, told Rudaw that Shingal is extremely strategic and was optimistic the Peshmerga would achieve victory. He explained that Shingal is the critical link between the ISIS stronghold cities of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul.
Rudaw correspondent Dildar Harki said the Peshmerga assault was launched at 7am on Thursday following a night of airstrikes and an early morning artillery barrage.
“At least 20,000 Peshmerga fighters are participating in the Shingal operation. The Peshmerga commander said today is the decision day for Shingal," a Peshmerga commander told Harki.
A statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said the number of Peshmerga involved in the attack was 7,500, but Rudaw correspondent Arina Moradi reported hundreds of Peshmerga lining the roads on the way to Shingal to join the fighting.
The statement said the Peshmerga would attack from three fronts to isolate Shingal town and cut off ISIS supply routes. The plan aims to “establish a significant buffer zone to protect the city and its inhabitants from incoming artillery,” according to the release.
ISIS militants captured the Yezidi town in August 2014 where they killed hundreds of civilians, took thousands captive and displaced tens of thousands more. The atrocities in Shingal made broadcast around the world and prompted the United States to begin airstrikes in the area.
For months, Peshmerga forces have dug trenches and reinforced forward operation positions around the town in preparation for the attack.
The long-awaited attack on Shingal has been stalled by disputes between Kurdish groups about who would do the fighting and govern the area in the post-ISIS era.