Kurdish forces took control of most of Iraq's largest dam as the largest U.S. deployment of air power in the campaign helped reverse some of the gains made by Islamic State militants in the north.
The U.S. widened its airstrikes over the weekend and used bombers for the first time since the offensive began Aug. 8 to help secure the dam near Mosul, Iraq's largest northern city, that had been seized by the insurgents.
President Barack Obama for the first time authorized strikes for the purpose of protecting critical infrastructure, not just U.S. personnel or threatened Iraqi minorities.
He told Congress in a letter the action is consistent with the mission to safeguard Americans and U.S. facilities.
Kurdish forces, also known as the peshmerga, will have full control of the Mosul Dam in "just a matter of time," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff for the Kurdish Regional Government's president Massoud Barzani, said by phone.
Kurdish forces were dismantling bombs placed near the main gates of the dam, he said.
The weekend action marked an escalation of U.S. involvement.
The few dozen strikes over the past week had been limited to protecting U.S. personnel near Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, and attacking militants around Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidi civilians had been trapped seeking refuge. While those strikes were aimed at stopping the advance of Islamic State forces, the weekend attacks near the Mosul dam marked the first effort at rolling back the militants' gains.
In 14 strikes yesterday, the U.S. destroyed or damaged Islamic State armed vehicles, Humvees, armored personnel carriers and a checkpoint near the Mosul dam, by using a mix of fighter jets, bombers and armed drones, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command in Tampa.
Kurdish fighters, along with regular Iraqi forces and U.S. fighter jets, are seeking to rein in the Sunni insurgents known as the Islamic State, who have rampaged through OPEC's No. 2 oil producer, seizing border posts, beheading foes and targeting dams.
The dam is the most important asset the Islamic State had captured since taking Nineveh province in June. The militants also control several oil and gas fields in western Iraq and eastern Syria.