U.S. soldiers clashed with ISIS militants, helping the Iraqi army repel attacks against the town of al-Baghdadi in the Western Anbar province, Al Jazeera TV reported Saturday, as Kurdish forces advanced in the north.
The U.S. troops were from al-Assad military base, the biggest in Anbar, First Lieutenant Muneer al-Qoud from the Iraqi police said by phone today. U.S. Central Command is aware of the reports and is looking into them, a spokesman said today.
The clashes may mark the first time U.S. ground forces have engaged Islamic State militants since President Barack Obama authorized air strikes against the al-Qaida breakaway group in August. A ground conflict would mark a policy shift for Obama, who made pulling the U.S. out of Iraq the centerpiece of his first presidential campaign and oversaw the withdrawal of combat forces from the country in 2011.
Kurdish forces kept up pressure in the north of Iraq by retaking the southern part of the Sinjar Mountains, freeing about 1,500 trapped families from the Yazidi religious minority, an Iraqi official said today.
The Peshmerga, as the Kurdish fighters are known, are still battling the Islamic State near Sinjar city. They’re being aided by air strikes and intelligence from U.S.-led alliance forces, Noureddin Qablan, deputy chief of the Nineveh provincial council, said by phone today.
Kurdish troops advanced today in the contested northern Syrian town of Kobani after heavy clashes with the Islamic State, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. troops are protecting U.S. facilities and assisting the Iraqi military in Baghdad and Kurdish fighters in Erbil in the north. Obama has approved almost doubling the number of military advisers, trainers and support personnel in the country.
Islamic State fighters hold much of northern Iraq after ousting government forces from Mosul in June. The group has swept over large swaths of Syria and Iraq and declared a so- called Muslim caliphate in areas under its control. Human rights organizations have said the militants have carried out mass killings of captured Iraqi Shiite troops, beheaded religious minorities and forced women into sexual slavery.
The siege of thousands of Yazidis was cited as the main reason that prompted U.S. air strikes in August. U.S. planes started by dropping food and water to the trapped people, who fled as Islamic State advanced and took over large parts of Iraq and Syria.
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