The United States has begun carrying out airstrikes near Iraq’s Haditha Dam which was under threat from Islamic State (IS) fighters, a US defence official has said.
It is the first time that the US is targeting IS fighters in the area as the group tries to capture the vital dam.
“At the request of the Iraqi government and in keeping with our mission to protect US personnel and facilities, US military planes have begun striking ISIL terrorists near the Haditha Dam,” said the official who declined to be identified.
“These strikes are being conducted to prevent the terrorists from further threatening Iraqi security forces in control of the dam.”
Iraqi army helicopters were also taking part in the offensive, targeting the positions of IS fighters around the city of Haditha, the Iraqi defence ministry confirmed.
US officials said that while the Anbar Province dam remains in control of the Iraqis, the US offensive is an effort to beat back fighters who have been trying to take over key dams across the country.
Last month, IS fighters tried to capture the Haditha Dam, which has six power generators located alongside the country’s second-largest reservoir. Iraqi forces backed up by local Sunni tribes were able to hold them off.
The IS group was able to take control of the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq last month, but persistent US airstrikes dislodged the fighters.
A top security spokesman told Al Jazeera that the Iraqi government expected the US to also conduct airstrikes on areas on the outskirts of the capital, known as the Baghdad belt – an area particularly important to Iraq’s security.
“If we want a remedy for this cancer of course there must be help from the global system and if there is real help from the American side we will tackle it in a shorter time – especially when we are talking about air power. If the Americans will be with us in this offensive everything will be ok,” the interior ministry spokesman told Al Jazeera.
In a separate development, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have taken Gazzer mountain, a strategic location close to Kalak on the road to Mosul, sources told Al Jazeera.
The Peshmerga offensive was supported by air strikes from the Iraqi air force
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