The third straight day of strikes by US jets and drones brought the first sign that US President Barack Obama's decision to return to Iraq could turn the tide on two months of jihadist expansion. "The peshmerga have liberated Makhmur and Gwer," peshmerga spokesman Halgord Hekmat told AFP, adding that "US aerial support helped".
Another official confirmed the Kurdish troops had recaptured the towns, which Islamic State (IS) militants had seized days earlier, bringing them within striking distance of Kurdish capital Arbil.
The past week saw jihadist fighters make dramatic gains, seizing Iraq's largest dam, repeatedly defeating the peshmerga and taking over large swathes of land. The US air strikes which Obama announced on Thursday stopped the rot just as the militants moved close enough to the autonomous Kurdish region to cause a panic in Arbil, where some US personnel are stationed.
IS attacks have displaced 200,000 people since August 3
IS attacks have displaced 200,000 people since August 3, including all the residents of Iraq's largest Christian town Qaraqosh. Among the others affected were a large contingent of Iraq's small Yazidi minority, whose main hub Sinjar was attacked last weekend.
According to leaders and witnesses, several dozen men were executed and groups of women abducted, although reliable information from IS-held areas is scarce. When the militants entered Sinjar, tens of thousands of people ran up the nearby mountain to hide.
Thousands were still there a week later, trying to survive in searing heat with little food or water. The siege of Mount Sinjar, which local legend holds as the final resting place of Noah's Ark, and a poignant appeal by Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil to save her community from extermination have captured the West's attention.
Obama justified his decision to send warplanes back over Iraqi skies three years after the last troops pulled out partly because of the risk of an impending genocide. The US intervention appeared to yield early results on that front too as officials said around 20,000 people had escaped the siege and been escorted to safety by Kurdish troops since Saturday.