At least 23 Kurdish soldiers have been killed and 12 others injured during clashes with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters southeast of the city of Nineveh in Iraq’s north, Al Jazeera has learnt.

The military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, or Peshmerga, were targeted in two different vehicle explosions in areas around the Sinjar Mountains.

In a separate development, a Peshmerga spokesman told Al Jazeera that ISIL carried out the biggest attack yet on their positions near the strategic town Gwer about 60km from Erbil.

The spokesman said some of the ISIL fighters came to town in the early hours of Saturday by boat over the Tigris river before taking control of large parts of the town. No casualty figures have been reported.

The Pentagon said on Friday that ISIL is spending more effort defending key supply lines in Iraq due to coalition air strikes

“They’re trying to protect what they can hold onto now, and… also we’re seeing them put a lot more emphasis on protecting their lines of communications,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

After nearly 1,700 air raids by US-led forces since August 8, ISIL’s advance has been halted for the most part but the group has held on to much of the territory they seized in Syria and Iraq last year.

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