Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Iraqi forces launched an offensive Thursday to reclaim the Islamic State-held town of Hawija, military officials said.
The Kurdish Peshmerga, however, is not part of the fight. Jabar Yawar, the group's secretary general, said Peshmerga fighters are keeping their defense lines strong and will not allow militants to infiltrate them.
A U.S.-led coalition backed Iraqi forces with airstrikes Thursday, and U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon said American forces stand "shoulder to shoulder with our Iraqi brothers" in the operation.
Among the airstrike targets Thursday was an Islamic State convoy attempting to escape from Hawija, Iraqi News reported.
"Heavy shelling targeted on Thursday an IS convoy composed of several vehicles escaping Hawija, Kirkuk, toward Mutaibija in Salahuddin," a local source said.
The United Nations reported that masses of civilians have been displaced from Hawija due to the fighting in the area.
Wednesday, Dillon tweeted that the Iraqi Air Force dropped 3 million leaflets on Hawija and other areas urging IS to surrender. They also provided safety instructions for civilians.