After nearly two desperate months, the ISIS siege of Iraqi town, Amirli, has been broken. This news comes as a relief after Saturday's American airstrikes and humanitarian airdrop missions provided much needed assistance to the Amirli residents who have been stranded without electricity, access to food or water. Amirli had been entirely surrounded by ISIS forces since mid-July, and their situation was growing increasingly dire as citizens began to perish of disease without the proper medication, and heat stroke without any access to electricity or cooling mechanisms.
Last Tuesday, the situation in Amirli was deemed a "human catastrophe" by Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham. A town of 15,000 Shiite Turkmens, Amirli's population is no friend to ISIS forces, who seek to establish a Sunni-majority caliphate extending from Iraq through Syria. ISIS has made a point to target minority groups in Iraq, including Yazidis, Christians, and of course, Shia Muslims.
Amirli first came under attack in June, but initially, their own fighting forces were able to drive ISIS away. ISIS, however, returned with a vengeance after setting explosive on the town's main power source, cutting off their electricity, and destroying wells.
During their two month reign of terror over Amirli, the town was completely isolated from the outside world, without access to even the most basic of human necessities, like water. Residents suffered from a wide range of afflictions, including famine, thirst and diarrhea. Although previous humanitarian airdrops attempted to alleviate some of their needs, many Amirli residents said it simply wasn't enough.
In a rare phone interview with the Associated Press on Friday, Amirli citizen and father of five, Jawad Hussein said, "The food we are getting only meets 5 percent of our need." Each airdrop mission delivered a paltry 240 or so boxes of food, and Amirli's population stands around 15,000. Of these 15,000 residents, about half are under the age of 15, and much of the remaining population are elderly.
International aid came on Saturday with coordinated airdrops from American, British, French, and Australian forces. According to a statement from US Central Command, the American humanitarian aid included 10,500 gallons of drinking water and 7,000 pre-packaged meals. The US also conducted airstrikes in continuing with the strategy that first began at the beginning of the month.
The result of these airstrikes, according to Central Command, was the destruction of "three ISIL (ISIS) Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL checkpoint and one ISIL tank near Amirli." This assistance, in conjunction with ground attacks from Iraqi troops, Shiite militia, and Kurdish fighters, finally rescued Amirli from ISIS' grasp.
It is unclear as of yet how many lives were lost in the struggle. The battle, which began at dawn on Sunday and lasted until around noon local time, was said to result in "some causalities," according to Iraqi Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi's statement on state television.
He also noted that struggles continued in the surrounding areas, but that their victory against ISIS was a "big achievement and an important victory." Sheikh Jaafar Jasim, speaking on behalf of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, told Bloomberg, “People are celebrating the arrival of the forces by firing in the air.”
While the struggle against ISIS is certainly far from over, this victory is doubtless a key morale boost for Iraqi forces who have struggled against the militants for months. In June, ISIS gained control of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, and the extremist group has already established the beginnings of their caliphate in certain areas of the country as well as in Syria.
However, with increasing international attention and assistance, particularly following the Jihadists escalating inhumane treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as the recent execution of American journalist James Foley, ISIS is facing a growing number of actionable enemies.
In fact, American forces also conducted airstrikes against ISIS forces near the Mosul dam on Saturday, an area that has been controlled by ISIS since their rapid takeover of many key regions of Iraq in June. The dam, in particular, was captured on August 7, and violence has ensued ever since to reestablish Iraqi control of the key waterway. Iraq took the dam back on August 18 after no fewer than 35 US airstrikes of the region, but fighting remains intense in the surrounding areas.
American airstrikes of the Mosul dam's nearby regions were meant to target the ISIS forces that remain in these outposts, as Mosul is a key component of ISIS' plan for expansion. As Iraq's second largest city, the city is a crucial strategic stronghold, and is one that Iraqi forces are desperately attempting to regain. The five additional American airstrikes on Saturday bring the total number of airstrikes since August 8 to 115.
The combination of these airstrikes, international aid, and Iraq's own fighting forces have certainly been key to pushing ISIS back, little by little. And while victories like Sunday's at Amirli are certainly to be celebrated, ISIS remains a serious threat throughout much of the country.
American airdrops to the Yazidi minority trapped in the Sinjar Mountains has done little to stem the violence they've suffered. In fact, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday that nearly 300 Yazidi girls and women have been sold into marriage, each for $1,000 over the past few weeks.
Even as Iraqi and American forces applaud the bravery and success of the mission in Amirli, both sides recognize that there is work still to be done.
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