Iraqi security forces, with the help of Shiite volunteers, broke a six-week siege by Islamic State militants on the northern Iraqi town of Amirli on Sunday, a day after U.S. airstrikes targeted the area.
Iraqi forces entered the town Sunday, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said, adding the military suffered "some casualties." He said fighting was still ongoing in surrounding villages.
"We thank God for this victory over terrorists," Nihad al-Bayati, who had taken up arms with fellow residents to defend the town, told The Associated Press by phone from the outskirts of Amirli. "The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life."
The community, located about 105 miles north of Baghdad, initially came under siege in June, but 15,000 Shiite Turkmen were able to hold off militants, who eventually surrounded the village in mid-July.
"Today is a day of victory for Iraq and the resilient people of Amirli," retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN.
Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said the military was disturbing aid to residents of Amirli, which is home to the Turkmen, an ethnic minority.
The news comes after U.S. warplanes conducted a fresh round of airstrikes and emergency aid drops in Amirli, the Pentagon announced late Saturday night. The operation was similar to the one mounted at Mount Sinjar, not far away in northern Iraq, to help save Yazidis, a religious minority that militants had also besieged.
"These military operations were conducted under authorization from the commander-in-chief to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to prevent an (IS) attack on the civilians of Amirli," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "The operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli."
Saturday's strikes and drops widened the U.S. effort to confront the Islamic State, which has seized territory from Syria and across northern Iraq. Its brutal tactics, including the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, have heightened the sense of urgency to confront them.
U.S. fighter jets attacked and destroyed three militant Humvees, a tank, an armed vehicle and a checkpoint near Amirli, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. Also, U.S. cargo planes dropped 109 bundles of food and water. Australian, British and French aircraft also flew humanitarian missions.
Contributing: The Associated Press