SHAFAQNA – Backed by U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen Sunday broke a nearly three-month siege imposed by Islamic State extremists on the northern town of Amerli, residents said Sunday.
Iraqi news media and human rights activists said that Iraqi soldiers entered the farming town about 100 miles north of Baghdad a day after launching a ground operation aimed at freeing the 15,000 mainly Shiite Turkmen residents, who had been encircled by the Sunni Arab militants since June and were running out of food, water and essential medicines.
“Iraqi forces are now inside Amerli. The people are very happy,” said Rushdie Hussain Ali, an officer with the Iraqi Turkmen Front political organization in the northern city of Kirkuk.
Fighting was still going on in nearby villages where the Islamic State fighters have been holed up for weeks, threatening Amerli, residents said. Iraqi forces were reportedly coming under fire from snipers posted in the village of Suleiman Beg, just outside Amerli.
The Pentagon said late Saturday that it had carried out airstrikes in the area and dropped humanitarian aid by plane into Amerli, where the water and electricity had been cut off and residents had resorted to drinking untreated water.
The operation came after days of mounting pressure for the U.S. military to help the beleaguered town, which the United Nations warned faced a “massacre” by the Sunni militants who view Shiites as apostates.
Pentagon officials said the humanitarian airdrop was conducted jointly with Australia, France and the United Kingdom, and that U.S. warplanes “conducted coordinated airstrikes against nearby [Islamic State] terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation.”