Iraq's Kurd leader announces 'liberation' of town of Sinjar from ISIS

Smoke rises from the site of U.S.-led air strikes in the town of Sinjar, Iraq Nov 13, 2015.
Smoke rises from the site of U.S.-led air strikes in the town of Sinjar, Iraq Nov 13, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINJAR (AFP) - Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani on Friday (Nov 13) announced the "liberation" of the town of Sinjar in a major operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"I am here to announce the liberation of Sinjar," Mr Barzani told a news conference near the northern town.

Speaking in Tunisia around the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "absolutely confident" the town would be freed in the operation by Kurdish peshmerga backed by United States-led air strikes and ground spotters.

Kurdish forces said they had secured strategic facilities in the northern Iraqi town on Friday as part of an action that could provide critical momentum in efforts to defeat the jihadist group.

"There are some entrenched ISIS fighters, but we are absolutely confident that over the next days Sinjar will be able to be liberated," Mr Kerry said during a visit to Tunis.

Mr Kerry said US officials were still assessing the strike that targeted ISIS militant "Jihadi John", but he said the operation showed the group's days were numbered.

The United States on Thursday carried out an air strike in Syria targeting the militant, a British citizen named Mohammed Emwazi who participated in gruesome videos showing the killings of American and British hostages, officials said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that if US forces had succeeded in killing "Jihadi John" in Syria, it would be a strike at the heart of ISIS.

Speaking outside his Downing Street residence, Mr Cameron said the US attack had been a combined effort between Britain and the United States and "an act of self-defence. It was the right thing to do".

He said he was still waiting for confirmation of Emwazi's death.

The Pentagon said it was assessing the effectiveness of the strike in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS.

"If this strike was successful - and we still await confirmation of that - it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL (ISIS)," Mr Cameron said. "It will demonstrate to those who would do Britain, our people and our allies harm, we have a long reach, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens."

He called Emwazi "a barbaric murderer", who "posed an ongoing and serious threat to innocent civilians, not only in Syria but around the world and in the United Kingdom too".

One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strike likely killed Emwazi though it was too soon to be certain.

If his death is confirmed, it would be an key strike in the US-led campaign against the group and would come more than a year after US President Barack Obama promised justice after the deaths of American hostages.

Emwazi participated in videos showing the killings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, US aid worker Peter Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and other hostages.