Have the tables turned for ISIS?

Air strikes have weakened ISIS, but ground troops suffer heavy losses

(CNN) – The Kurdish forces fighting extremists in Iraq and Syria say they need help. ISIS has looted Iraqi troop carriers and have used other heavy military weaponry against Iraq’s army and the Peshmerga. And though Kurdish fighters have had the help of air strikes led by western allies they have lost more than 1,000 members since August.

A Peshmerga gunner keeps an eye on the river valley separating him from ISIS, letting loose the occasional round at an enemy that rarely shows itself. But they’re there: in the distance the ISIS’ black banner flutters in the breeze.

Below, the village of Gwer is in Peshmerga hands; the original inhabitants fled months ago. On the far bank, in ISIS-controlled territory, the homes have also been abandoned; this once peaceful bend in the River Zab now a battleground. The echo of gun and mortar fire regularly shatters the calm; fingers here on the front line are usually on the trigger.

Khalis Ali commands this hilltop. He’s faced off against ISIS for months and knows them well. “They have the tactics of thieves,” he says. “They sneak up on us from different directions at night. They attack our positions but we beat them back. They can’t overcome us.”

After months of coalition air strikes, this veteran fighter says ISIS’s onslaught has been blunted, here, at least. “Three months ago ISIS was firing one hundred, a hundred and fifty mortar rounds a day at us, but now,” he says, “They seem to be much weaker.”

Weaker perhaps, but not defeated. Throughout the time we’ve been here, it has all been outgoing fire, from the Kurdish positions in the direction of ISIS. But now, late in the afternoon ISIS is starting to fire back, and normally they attack at night.

That’s what they tried, unsuccessfully, a week ago. The fighters shared this phone video of the ISIS fighters they managed to kill, with the help of air strikes.

The fighters believe the tide is turning, but it’s no time to let down their guard.

Copyright 2015 CNN

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