Kurdish Troops Free Yazidis, But Major Battles Remain
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Today thousands of trapped Iraqi civilians are finally moving off Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq. The city of Sinjar was cleared of militants this morning by Iraqi Kurdish troops. A five-month siege by ISIS was broken this week by the Iraqi fighters known as the Peshmerga backed by U.S. airstrike. The civilians are Yazidis, a religious minority that's been targeted by ISIS. From northern Iraq, NPR's Deborah Amos reports that Iraqis used are celebrating the gains against the militants, but it is a small step.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language).
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: These are scenes broadcast on Iraqi Kurdish TV after the Peshmerga routed ISIS militants from the foothills of Mount Sinjar. This was the largest military operation in Iraq since the U.S. took a direct role, 8,000 Kurdish troops backed by U.S. air power. But even as the Kurdish fighters celebrated, a Kurdish political leader gave a frank assessment of the victory. This is just the first step in a long and costly battle to push ISIS out of Iraq, he says. Strategically and tactically, the Peshmerga must close Iraq's border with Syria, says Hemen Hawrami, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party.
HEMEN HAWRAMI: First you have to cut the supply line between Syria and Iraq, OK, to isolate ISIS in Iraq, ISIS in Syria.
AMOS: Militants now move weapons and fighters easily across a border they have erased.
HAWRAMI: We have being attacked by ISIS from the Syrian side, not from the Iraqi side. Yes, so that's why you have to cut ISIS in Iraq, ISIS in Syria.
AMOS: And that's why the front is moving. The Peshmerga are moving on to the border towns of Sinjar and Tal Afar, still under ISIS control. This week's achievement on Mount Sinjar demonstrated a successful strategy - U.S. air power plus local boots on the ground. But for it to work across Iraq, the Iraqi national Army has to be ready.
HAWRAMI: We need Iraq to be strong enough to help us to help them defeating ISIS. But this takes time and it needs force, it needs aerial strikes. I don't think the Iraqi Army will be ready in the next six, seven months to do that.
AMOS: Americans say the timeline is even longer. Lieutenant General James Terry is head of the joint operation in Iraq.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL JAMES TERRY: In terms of building some of the capabilities that are required, they're probably about three years down the road, minimum.
AMOS: He says it will take that long for the Iraqi Army to become an effective part of this fight.
Deborah Amos, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.