ISIS fighters launched a major assault Tuesday night southwest of Irbil in the Kurdish region of Iraq, Kurdish officials said.
A “big attack” is taking place near the towns of Gwer and Makhmour, one Kurdish source told CNN, citing an assistant to Gen. Sirwan Barzani, commander of the sector. The towns are some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Irbil, the Kurdish capital.
According to Kurdish officials in the area, fighting at close quarters was continuing hours after the first ISIS assault was launched at about 9 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET).
ISIS launched its offensive on Kurdish positions from several directions, one Kurdish official said. Coalition aircraft were in the area, according to the officials, but they had so far been unable to fire on ISIS units because of the close proximity of the two sides on the ground.
A CNN team was in the area 10 days ago and was told by fighters at the front that ISIS was making almost daily attempts to infiltrate through Kurdish lines, which are strung out along a stretch of the River Zab.
Fortifications are few and far between. Volunteer fighters have very little in the way of weaponry.
In January, nearly 30 Peshmerga fighters were killed in the area by a surprise ISIS attack across the river.
Kurdish officials said they were concerned ISIS fighters would break through their lines.
If that happens, there would be little standing between ISIS and the Kurdish capital, though Tuesday’s attacks are likely aimed at drawing the already stretched Kurdish forces in many different directions to relieve the pressure on Mosul, which ISIS seized in June.
Kurdish forces recently have been trying to surround Mosul to cut off ISIS’ lines of supply from Syria, setting up what could be an eventual assault to try to expel the terror group from the city.