ISIL using tunnel networks, civilians as human shields in Ramadi

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Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has kept Iraqi forces from gaining full control of Ramadi by launching attacks through a network of tunnels and using local residents as human shields.

“What we see are small groups of enemy forces and in that group is maybe five to seven, maybe as many as a dozen, fighters in these groups – maybe centered around a machine gun or maybe centered around several rocket-propelled grenades,” Col. Steve Warren, spokesman of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, said.

Iraqi security forces clear houses in Ramadi on Jan. 17. /AP
Iraqi security forces clear houses in Ramadi on Jan. 17. /AP

Iraqi troops, backed by heavy air support from the U.S.-led coalition, drove ISIL out of the center of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, last month. But the city is not considered to be fully liberated, as pockets of ISIL jihadists are still holed up in up to two-thirds of the city’s neighborhoods in the east and north.

The terror group’s fighters have made use of a huge network of tunnels to launch surprise attacks that have slowed the progress of Iraq’s forces in Ramadi.

As Iraq’s forces advanced on ISIL in December, the jihadists pulled back using civilian captives as shields, planted numerous roadside bombs and left behind houses booby-trapped with explosives.

Ramadi resident Um Omar said ISIL jihadists ordered her family to move with them as human shields as the Iraqi army approached.

“Every time the army would advance, Daesh (ISIL) would knock on our door and say, ‘OK, time to go,’ ” the woman said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Last week, Um Omar and her family, along with 60 other people, were rescued by the Iraqi military.

“We thought it was going to be easier because we have air strikes and air support,” said Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, the commander of the counterterrorism unit in Ramadi. “But now, when the pilot sees civilians, they don’t strike.”

Barwari said his troops have evacuated more than 3,000 people out of Ramadi, and he estimates that thousands remain. The rescues and evacuations are draining resources and not only slowing progress in Ramadi but also across the Euphrates River valley, he said.

Due to the ongoing effort to fully clear Ramadi, plans for a push into Fallujah by the Iraqi military have effectively been put on hold.