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IS kills Navy SEAL – Kurd defenses breached

WASHINGTON, May 3, (Agencies): The Islamic State group killed a Navy SEAL during an “orchestrated attack” in Iraq on Tuesday, a US defense official said. The Pentagon had earlier announced a US troop died during an IS attack on a Peshmerga position north of Mosul. “It was an orchestrated attack with shots and multiple IEDs (bombs) going off,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another defense official had earlier said the serviceman was killed by “direct fire.” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the attack took place about three to five kilometers (two to three miles) behind the forward line of troops, adding that the troop was advising and assisting Peshmerga forces. “This sad news is a reminder of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day in the ongoing fight to destroy ISIL and end the threat the group poses to the United States and the rest of the world,” Cook said, using an acronym for the IS group.

“Our coalition will honor this sacrifice by dealing ISIL a lasting defeat.” Special operations forces are playing a key role in America’s campaign against the IS group in Iraq and Syria, where the commandos are training and advising local forces fighting the jihadists. Islamic State militants attacked Kurdish peshmerga forces on multiple fronts in northern Iraq on Tuesday, breaching their defences and briefly taking over a town, military sources said.

The attacks around the northern city of Mosul are the largest against Kurdish forces in recent months by the insurgents, who have been losing ground to an array of forces in the north and west of the country. The head of a Christian militia said the insurgents had overrun their positions at dawn around the town of Tel Asqof, 20 km (12 miles) north of Mosul, and occupied it until being beaten back with the help of air strikes from a US-led coalition. “There were many suicide bombers and suicide car bombs,” said Safa Eliyas, the head of the Nineveh Protection Forces, which are deployed alongside the peshmerga in the area. There were also attacks on the Bashiqa front and in the Khazer area, about 40 km (25 miles) west of the Kurdish regional capital Erbil. Since the United States intervened to blunt Islamic State’s advance on Erbil in August 2014, the peshmerga have driven the militants back in the north. The militants are rarely able to penetrate Kurdish defences. Peshmerga Secretary General Jabbar Yawar said details of the offensives were still unclear, but they constituted the biggest attacks in recent months.

“The battles are ongoing,” he said. An ongoing joint Iraqi operation against the Islamic State group south of the city of Mosul could displace 30,000 civilians in the coming weeks, the UN refugee agency warned Tuesday. Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces backed by the US-led coalition against IS launched the offensive in March in the province of Nineveh, of which jihadistcontrolled Mosul is the capital. These forces are still at least 50 kms (30 miles) south of Iraq’s second city but the fighting there has been forcing thousands of civilians from their homes. An existing camp in Debaga, which lies east of Makhmur — the main staging ground for that operation — already hosts around 8,000 people, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. It said it opened a new camp on the grounds of a football stadium in Debaga this week “in response to increasing numbers of newly displaced families”.

“As many as 30,000 newly displaced individuals may arrive in Makhmur over the coming weeks as the military offensive continues,” the UNHCR said in a statement. “The newly built facility will help to ease some of the overcrowding that we have seen since the latest fighting began,” said Fred Cussigh, head of UNHCR’s field response unit in the area.

The aid community is concerned that a massive military operation to retake Mosul will cause displacement on a scale that Iraq cannot handle. According to some estimates, up to one million civilians may still live in Mosul, which has been IS’s main hub in Iraq since it took over the city in June 2014. At least 3.4 million people have already been displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014.

There are “extremely worrying” signs that the Islamic State group may be making its own chemical arms and have used them already in Iraq and Syria, a global watchdog said Tuesday. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons head Ahmed Uzumcu said his body’s fact-finding teams have found evidence of the use of sulphur mustard in attacks in the two war-torn countries. “Although they could not attribute this to DAESH … there are strong suspicions that they may have used it (chemical weapons),” Uzumcu told AFP, using the alternative name for the jihadist group.

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