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Coalition conduct airstrikes on alleged ISIS caves in Hamrin Mountains

Coalition airstrikes on caves in the Hamrin Mountains of Saladin province on Wednesday have killed at least 5 to 10 alleged ISIS fighters, according to a statement by the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR)

“The Hamrin Mountains are a known Daesh safe haven with intricate tunnel and cave systems used to smuggle weapons, facilitate senior leader movements and plot terrorist attacks in the region,” reads a statement by the US-led coalition, using the arabic acronym for ISIS.

Carried out in tandem with the Government of Iraq, the press release reveals the 14th Iraqi Army Division and security forces discovered ISIS “documents, electronic devices, and fragments of weapons and other equipment.”

The coalition claims that the mountains have been used by senior ISIS leaders, as one of the group’s last operating posts in Iraq.

The OIR is the US-led military offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS) which was established in June 2014, operating both in Iraq and Syria.

“The presence of Daesh in Iraq continues to diminish, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our Iraqi partner forces,” Maj Gen. Eric Hill, commanding general, Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, .

“Strikes like these help our Iraqi partners maintain relentless pressure on the Daesh scourge, no matter where these terrorists hide,” he added

Although the government announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, remnants of the group have returned to their earlier insurgency tactics, ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable  rural populations.

The Iraqi military has been tracking ISIS holdouts that remain active in the rugged mountains of Qarachokh overlooking the town of Makhmour in Nineveh province, and in Hamrin mountains which crisscross Kirkuk, Salahaddin and Diyala provinces. They hide out in caves and crevices during the day, and descend to the plains at night, terrorizing the locals and extorting them for food and money.

ISIS is able to take advantage of political fissures between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the long-disputed territories. Since the days Saddam Hussein and the post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority, the status of lands surrounding Kirkuk was never permanently settled, leading to a vacuum of uncertainty of who controls them.

ISIS seized vast swathes of Syria and northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, including Mosul and other large Sunni-majority cities.

Baghdad called on the international community to form a coalition to help fight ISIS in Iraq. At the height of its power between 2014 and 2016, ISIS controlled an area roughly the size of Great Britain,  spread across both Iraq and Syria.

ISIS insurgent activities have increased in recent weeks, with militants killing five soldiers and wounding three more in three separate incidents in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces.

ISIS militants also killed an Iraqi federal police officer at a checkpoint in Hawija, western Kirkuk on April 12, according to defense officials.

Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari vowed last week to “ramp up” the government’s anti-ISIS efforts, and stop the group’s attacks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jabar Yawar, chief of staff at the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, warned earlier in April that the ISIS resurgence has been underway for some time.

“According to our data, the group increased its activities in 2018 and 2019, especially in Kurdistani areas outside of the Kurdistan Region administration, including Diyala, Hamrin, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, and Qarachogh. In Qarachogh, they even established bases,” Yawar told  Rudaw. Source