Islamic State jihadists are using “suicide squads” from Syria to defend its last major stronghold in Iraq, Mosul, as a U.S.-backed force of up to 30,000 advance towards the city to push the terrorist group out, CNN has learned from witnesses.
Late last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS will be “simultaneously” carrying out operations in the terrorist group’s de-facto capitals of Raqqa in Syria, and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The move is expected to prevent ISIS from fleeing Mosul and regrouping across the border in Raqqa.
As the Iraqi force — made up of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni tribesmen, Shiite militiamen, many backed by Iran — inches closer to Mosul, ISIS is committing “barbaric acts” against some of the estimated 1.5 million people who reside in the city, according to the United Nations.
Witnesses said hundreds of new arrivals had streamed into Mosul from the group’s heartland of Raqqa, Syria, in the past two days, describing them as foreign fighters wearing distinct uniforms and suicide belts, and carrying light weapons.
ISIS fighters have been seen rigging bridges across the strategic Tigris river with explosives and have prepared dozens of vehicle-borne suicide bombs.
The U.S.-backed Iraqi force participating in the Mosul offensive, which began on October 17, has reportedly been gaining ground slowly as it advances towards the city, liberating villages from ISIS along the way.
Nevertheless, the anti-ISIS troops have faced a fierce resistance from the jihadist group in certain pockets.
ISIS has employed “asymmetric warfare tactics, such as setting oil fields and even a sulfur factory alight to push coalition troops away, and using civilians as human shields,” notes CNN.
“We continue to receive reports of depredations — including extrajudicial killings and summary executions — against children and women, as well as male civilians, by ISIL as Iraqi Government forces close in on Mosul,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters Tuesday.
“We also continue to receive information that reinforces the belief that ISIL are deliberately using civilians as human shields — forcing them to move to sites where ISIL fighters are based, or preventing them from leaving other places for strategic reasons,” he added.
ISIS is also carrying out retribution killings.
On Saturday, the jihadist group executed about 40 people close to a “liberated” village near Nimrud, southeast of Mosul, in retaliation for those who had welcomed U.S.-backed Iraqi forces.
Last week, ISIS killed 284 men and boys near Mosul.