LATEST: BBC Reporter: “17 Villages Fall” as Islamic State Advances in Anbar Province in Western Iraq

On a day of dramatic news from Iraq — including the US claim that it has killed top Islamic State commanders — Kurdish forces are claiming a major advance in the northwest towards the Islamic State-held town of Sinjar.

Masrour Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Security Council said peshmerga had reached Mount Sinjar, breaking a months-long siege by the Islamic State that had trapped hundreds of people.

In August, thousands of civilians — mainly of the Yazidi faith — had fled to the mountain after the jihadists captured Sinjar town. Scores died and many others faced starvation and thirst before an intervention by Kurdish and US forces evacuated most of the displaced.

An estimated 8,000 Kurdish peshmerga, supported by US airstrikes, are in the operation.

“All those Yazidis that were trapped on the mountain are now free,” Barzani said, although he added that the peshmerga had not yet begun to evacuate them.

He declared that peshmerga had taken more than 700 square kilometers of territory in two days, surrounding the jihadists in an area west of Mosul, and claimed 100 Islamic State fighters had been killed.

The offensive began on Wednesday, with the US carrying out more than 50 aerial attacks since then. Lieutenant General James Terry said the sorties “allowed those [Kurdish] forces to maneuver and regain approximately 100 square kilometres of ground” near Sinjar.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said airstrikes since mid-November have killed “multiple senior and mid-level leaders” of the Islamic State.

Rear Admiral John Kirby said, “We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL’s ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq.”

A Defence Department official said those killed included top officials Haji Mutazz and Abd al-Basit and mid-level commander Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni.

The news overtakes the Islamic State’s victory on Wednesday, when it recaptured parts of the town of Baiji in central Iraq.

Last month, Iraqi forces and Shia militia had reclaimed Baiji and threatened to break a months-long Islamic State siege of the nearby oil refinery — one of three in Iraq.

However, Iraqi commanders ordered a withdrawal after five days of Islamic State attacks, claiming a lack of support and ammunition.

“Top army commanders ordered troops to leave the city and take positions inside the refinery, which was given priority. They knew staying inside Baiji would help Islamic State to drag the army into a war of attrition,” said an army major.

BBC Reporter: “17 Villages Fall” as Islamic State Advances in Anbar Province in Western Iraq

BBC reporter Quentin Somerville — travelling with Iraqi forces — sends Twitter messages about the advance of the Islamic State in Anbar Province in western Iraq: