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ERBIL, Iraq — Kurdish forces took over parts of Iraq's largest dam on Sunday less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) extremist group, Kurdish security officials said — as U.S. and Iraqi planes aided their advance by bombing militant targets near the facility.
The U.S. began targeting ISIS fighters with airstrikes a little over a week ago, allowing Kurdish forces to fend off an advance on their regional capital Erbil and to help tens of thousands of members of religious minorities escape the extremists' onslaught. Recapturing the dam would be a significant victory against the Islamic State group, which has seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria. The dam on the Tigris supplies electricity and water for irrigation to a large part of the country.
On Sunday, Obama notified Congress of the air strikes. "The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services," Obama said in a letter to Congress. According to the U.S. military, the strikes on Sunday near the Mosul Dam destroyed three ISIS armed vehicles, an ISIS vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft artillery gun, an ISIS checkpoint and an IED emplacement.
The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, launched the operation early Sunday to retake the Mosul Dam, Gen. Tawfik Desty, a Kurdish commander, told The Associated Press. He said his forces now control the eastern part of the dam and that fighting is still underway.
Another commander said Kurdish forces later were hindered by roadside bombs planted by retreating Islamic State fighters. He added that peshmerga forces had taken the nearby town of Tel Kasouf by Sunday morning.
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