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Thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga troops are involved in an offensive to regain formerly Kurdish villages near the ISIS-held town of Mosul, Kurdish

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(CNN)Thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga troops are involved in an offensive to regain formerly Kurdish villages near the ISIS-held town of Mosul, Kurdish officials say.
The Peshmerga-led ground offensive, backed by international coalition air support, was launched early Sunday to retake several villages near Khazir, east of Mosul.

The operation includes approximately 5,500 Peshmerga fighters.
Protecting the Mosul Dam

Protecting the Mosul Dam 01:01
The move comes ahead of a joint offensive by Kurdish forces and Iraqi troops to retake Mosul, Kurdish media says.
Kurdish media outlet Rudaw reported that the Peshmerga troops, accompanied by Zeravani Special Forces -- a Kurdish paramilitary outfit -- picked their way across ISIS-held territory, retaking abandoned villages it says were once populated by Kurds.
"I am very happy to help liberate these villages today, because they are Kurds like us," First Lt. Hemin Rashid, a Zeravani Peshmerga fighter from Halabja told the media outlet.
"After we liberate the village they can return and we will guard them too," he said.
Mortar fire and roadside bombs slowed the advance, Rudaw said.
"ISIS is seeing our forces but we cannot see them because they hide inside civilian homes and in tunnels," Zeravani spokesman Dilshad Mawlood said.
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Focus on Mosul
Mawlood told Rudaw that, "other than taking the villages, the other goal is to push the ISIS threat further from the town of Khabat, and the third goal is to get closer to the final goal that is Mosul."
The operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and an ISIS stronghold in the country, has been months in the making and involves coordination between Iraq's military, Kurdish forces and the international coalition.
"This is one of the many shaping operations expected to increase pressure on ISIL in and around Mosul in preparation for an eventual assault on the city," a statement from the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) announcing the operation read, using another acronym for the Sunni terror group.
Hemin Hawrami, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Foreign Relations Office, tweeted that the "very important" operation was nearing completion.

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