Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have stepped up an offensive on the Sunni militant group Islamic State (IS) around the country's second city of Mosul.
The operation was launched on Wednesday and Kurdish troops, known as peshmerga, have now retaken a large area of Sinjar province to Mosul's West and further encircled the city, cutting off supply lines from IS strongholds in neighboring Syria.
Peshmerga forces took control of a number of villages around the area and bombarded the city center on Friday, commanders told Rudaw.
Video footage of the offensive shown by Kurdistan Democratic Party-owned Kurdistan TV showed heavy fighting, including what appeared to be the use of a MILAN anti-tank missile of the kind supplied to the peshmerga by the German government.
The US-led anti-IS coalition, which has been conducting airstrikes on the extremist group as well as training and equipping peshmerga and Iraqi government forces, provided heavy air support for the offensive.
The operation comes ahead of an expected offensive by Iraqi troops to retake Mosul, although officials in Baghdad had previously indicated that this would not be launched until spring. Kurdish commanders have said that they would not be involved in a move on the city itself, but would support Iraqi efforts.
US Central Command Chief General Lloyd Austin told the Wall Street Journal that American and Iraqi forces have begun preparations for an assault on the city that could begin in spring or early summer.
Such an operation could take some time, however. IS has built up a heavy presence in Mosul since it captured the city in June, and it remains the largest urban area under the group's control — and is a key part of its self-declared caliphate.
The extremist group is now fortifying the town, and in December made plans to dig a trench around the entire city six-and-a-half feet deep by six-and-a-half feet wide. The group also walled up a western entrance and demolished a bridge that opposition forces could use to attack the city, Reuters reported.
Watch the VICE News documentary The Islamic State here:
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck