ISIL fighters have killed at least 24 members of the Kurdish security forces in a surprise attack in northern Iraq, Kurdish officials said Sunday.
Three Kurdish officers reported continued clashes with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Sunday, one day after the deaths, near Gwer, a town some 25 miles southwest of the autonomous Kurdish region's capital Erbil.
Gwer is likely to be a launch-pad for any future attempt by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake Mosul, the biggest city in northern Iraq, which ISIL seized last June.
"We've been engaged in fighting with them for the past two days," said one senior Kurdish officer.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said around 60 ISIL fighters had been killed. By listening to their radio communication, he said Kurdish forces were able to determine that likely many more fighters suffered injuries.
The Gwer assault comes as United States-led forces launched 19 air strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. military said on Sunday.
Of the 10 air strikes in Syria, nine hit ISIL targets near the town of Kobane on the Turkish border, the U.S. military said in a statement. The other Syria strike hit an ISIL position near Albu Kamal, close to Iraq.
The nine air strikes inside Iraq hit ISIL forces near Erbil, Mosul, Sinjar and Al-Asad, the statement said. All the air strikes took place between Saturday morning and Sunday morning.
More than 750 peshmerga Kurdish forces have died in combat since ISIL overran their defenses in northern Iraq last summer, prompting the first U.S. air strikes.
The Kurds have now regained most of the ground they lost in August. However, peshmerga commanders complain they remain ill-equipped compared with ISIL fighters, who plundered Iraqi arms depots when they overran Mosul in June. Many of the weapons ISIL has are U.S.-made, supplied to Baghdad after the departure of U.S. combat troops in 2009.
Al Jazeera and wire services