American forces have carried out airstrikes near the Iraqi town of Amerli, which has been under siege by Islamic militants for more than two months.
U.S., British, French and Australian aircraft also made aid drops to the area, where residents have been desperately short on food and without clean water for weeks.
The operation was carried out in cooperation with the Iraqi army and air force, along with other armed forces, the Washington Post notes. The Post quotes Karim al-Nouri, a spokesman for the Shiite militia Badr Brigades, saying fighters moved late Saturday toward the nearby town of Suleiman Beg, currently occupied by the militant Islamic State.
Amerli is home to Shiite Turkmen, considered apostates by the Sunni Islamists, says NPR's Peter Kenyon, who reports from about 120 miles to the south in Erbil. Amerli came under Islamic State attack in June, when the Islamists seized the northern city of Mosul, and has "resisted mightily, and held out against long odds," Kenyon says.
"The town, home to a significant number of military men, has held out longer than anyone anticipated," Kenyon reports. "Residents say farmers are slaughtering their remaining livestock to keep people alive, but the unclean water brought up from wells is a critical health hazard."
News of the offensive and the airdrops has boosted morale among Amerli's residents, according to Abigail Hauslohner of The Post.
"Amerli residents and local officials said Friday and Saturday that reports of the offensive, as well as U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State militants and aid drops to residents, have boosted morale in the Shiite town, which has accused Washington and Baghdad of failing to stop the siege," Hauslohner writes.
The operation has the double objective of breaking the Islamic State siege and reopening the main highway north from Baghdad, according to the BBC.