SINJAR, Iraq — Kurdish forces entered Sinjar on Friday, raising their flags over buildings throughout the Iraqi town just hours after controlling significant stretch of a major highway that runs into it.
The main road leading to the town is now full of peshmerga fighters, as PKK and YPG convoys roll through the city honking horns and firing celebratory gunfires. Military officers have warned their soldiers not to touch any kinds of wires, fearing the dangers of IEDs, one of ISIS’s infamous defense tactics. As a part of the convoy that left for Sinjar Friday morning, there were teams of technicians charged with clearing such IEDs.
In an hour of walking around town, BuzzFeed News did not find any dead bodies, suggesting that the real work of liberating the town may have begun well before the mass of troops started entering Friday afternoon.
Peshmerga forces, who pressed ahead in the early hours with a long convoy line of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Toyota pick-ups mounted with machine guns, had said they were optimistic they would be inside Sinjar today.
"I don't think ISIS can resist," one peshmerga colonel told BuzzFeed News as thousands of fighters began to push towards the town on Friday.
The peshmerga and their Kurdish allies began the long-awaited offensive on Thursday by moving to cut ISIS's main supply roads into Sinjar from the east and west, which they appeared to achieve. Outside the village of Golan, where the peshmerga gathered their forces on a stretch of that road in the east, soldiers seemed encouraged by their swelling numbers, and eager to advance.
The road has been a major supply line for ISIS — one analyst on Twitter called it the group's "I-95" — linking its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Mosul and Raqqa. The disruption of the route will set ISIS back on other key fronts across its territory. But the push into Sinjar would be a symbolic victory for the peshmerga as well, with the region now infamous as the site of ISIS's slaughter of the Yazidi religious minority based there. "Liberating Sinjar is like making history for us," said Azad Ali, 26, as he prepared to join the convoy and make for the town.
Kurdish forces planned to mount a similar push from the west, while also pressing into the town from the center down the road from Sinjar Mountain, which towers overhead. From the peak of the mountain, peshmerga soldiers fire down on the town with surface-to-air missiles, and they also bear down on ISIS positions from nearby hills. Meanwhile, warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition are bombing the militants from the skies.
The attack plan leaves an escape route open to ISIS fighters in the town from Sinjar's south. Any militants who take it could be picked off by airstrikes, while those who try the recently seized Raqqa–Mosul road could face waiting Kurdish fighters.
But the dangers of IEDs, snipers, and suicide attacks still lingered, with the potential to bog down the advance. The commander of one unit of the technicians charged with defusing IEDs was solemn as he waited to start working, declining an interview request. "If we make it to Sinjar alive, I'll give you an interview," he said.
With additional reporting by Ayman Oghanna in Golad.