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Coalition strikes pound ISIS caves in Iraq

Coalition forces conducted airstrikes on Daesh fighters hiding in 10 caves across the Hamrin Mountains, Iraq, April 29, 2020.

SCREENSHOT FROM VIDEO

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2020

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq destroyed caves sheltering Islamic State militants in a series of airstrikes this week, as Iraqi security forces ended April with nearly 100 operations against the group.

On Thursday, Operation Inherent Resolve released strike video and a statement saying the raid a day earlier took out 10 caves in northern Iraq’s Hamrin Mountains, killing an estimated five to 10 ISIS fighters.

“Strikes like these help our Iraqi partners maintain relentless pressure on the Daesh scourge, no matter where these terrorists hide,” said Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, commanding general of the coalition’s special operations joint task force, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Initial estimates of the death toll were expected to be revised later, based on a ground search still being conducted by Iraq’s 14th Army Division and security forces, the statement said.

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Though much of the cave complex was “inaccessible” after the strike, Iraqi forces had already discovered ISIS documents, electronic devices and weapons fragments, it said.

New estimates were not available early Friday, a coalition military official told Stars and Stripes via text message, adding that more strikes had been conducted Thursday night, killing an estimated five more fighters.

“Operations will continue throughout Ramadan,” the official said, referring to the Muslim holy month.

The northern Iraqi mountain range has for years been a safe haven for the militants. It’s “one of their last remaining operating areas in Iraq,” where they use “intricate tunnel and cave systems” to smuggle weapons, move senior leaders and plot operations, the earlier coalition statement said.

The militants have continued to carry out insurgent attacks in the region since losing the last of the territory they once claimed in Iraq in late 2017.

On Tuesday, about 60 miles to the northeast of where the cave system was destroyed, an attacker blew himself up outside the Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Directorate in Kirkuk, wounding at least two security personnel in the blast, the Iraqi government has said.

The militants have also taken refuge in the country’s sprawling western desert in Anbar province, officials have told Stars and Stripes in recent months.

Iraqi air assault infantry crisscrossed that desert searching for ISIS hideouts this week, coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III said Friday on Twitter.

Iraqi security forces conducted a total of 99 anti-ISIS operations in April, the coalition said in a social media post also on Friday.

“The presence of Daesh in Iraq continues to diminish, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our Iraqi partner forces,” Hill said.

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

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