Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters on Monday wrested back control of the country’s largest dam from the hands of Islamic militants who captured it less than two weeks ago, an army spokesman in Baghdad said.
The development marks the first major victory for Iraqi and Kurdish troops since U.S. airstrikes began earlier this month and could significantly boost their morale as they try to free territory overrun by the Islamic State group in a blitz this summer.
The Mosul Dam — spanning the Tigris River just north of Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul — and its broader complex hold great strategic value as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country.
Alarmed by the militants advance, the U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes pounded the area in the past two days. The U.S. military said U.S. forces conducted nine strikes on Saturday and another 16 on Sunday in efforts to help the Iraqis retake the dam.
Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told The Associated Press that Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraqi anti-terrorism troops “fully liberated” the dam on Monday and “hoisted the Iraqi flag over it.”
Al-Mousawi added that the troops were backed by a joint aerial support, but he didn’t specify whether there were any U.S. airstrikes in the area of the dam on Monday.
Local residents and others in the area could not immediately be contacted to confirm the security forces’ recapture of the dam.
The U.S. launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq more than a week ago in a bid to halt its advance across the north.
But the Sunni militants remain in control of vast swaths of northern and western Iraq, including the city of Mosul, as well as much of northeastern Syria.
Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting in Iraq since the Islamic State’s rapid advance began in June. The scale of the humanitarian crisis prompted the U.N. to declare its highest level of emergency lasts week.
The decision to launch airstrikes marked the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last American troops withdrew in 2011 and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group.