By Liz Fields – Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militia and Kurdish fighters say they reclaimed the town of Amerli on Sunday from Islamic State fighters after a two-month siege on the northern farming town that had left thousands of residents trapped.
Iraqi forces entered Amerli shortly after midday Sunday, following an operation that started at dawn, Army spokesman Lieutenant General Qassim al-Moussawi said on state TV.
Fighting continued inside the town and in surrounding villages, al-Moussawi said, but the advancement was a “big achievement and an important victory” for the allied troops.
The Iraqi military released video on August 30 it says shows the evacuation of women, children, and the elderly from Amerli.
News of the victory came after the US military conducted overnight airstrikes on militant positions and dropped aid supplies to trapped residents. Australian, French, and British planes were also involved in the aid drop on Saturday.
More than 15,000 Amerli residents, the majority of whom are Shiite Turkmen, had successfully defended the area against Islamic State extremists after the residents chose to stay and fight instead of fleeing the advancing insurgents as they seized large swathes of territory across northern and western Iraq.
Islamic State militants have been waging an increasingly violent campaign since June, when it declared the establishment of a caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria. The group regards Shiite Turkmen as apostates.
The Turkmen fought off initial attacks, building trenches and fortified posts across Amerli to defend their positions. They then became trapped as militants encircled the town. Residents reported that they survived with little or no electricity or running water, and depended on whatever aid they received from the Iraqi military.
Many in the town celebrated the victory and arrival of Iraqi troops on Sunday by firing weapons into the air, according to the Associated Press.
“I can see the tanks of the Iraqi army patrolling Amerli’s street now,” one resident told Reuters by phone. “I’m very happy we got rid of the Islamic State terrorists who were threatening to slaughter us.”