Trapped Civilians Unhurried Iraqi Army'south Battle Against IS in Hit

68
Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 0:32 AM

Iraq'south elite counterterrorism forces declare an estimated 20.000 civilians are trapped in the tiny western town of Hit, where Iraqi forces have recently relaunched an offensive aimed at cutting critical IS supply lines to neighboring Syria.

As ground forces thrust W across Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State group, civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

Iraq'south elite counterterrorism forces declare an estimated twenty.000 civilians are trapped in the tiny western town of Hit, where Iraqi forces have recently relaunched an offensive aimed at cutting critical IS supply lines to neighboring Syria. The civilians, Iraqi commanders and U. S.-led coalition executive say, are slowing operations, making it more challenging to utilize airstrikes to clear terrain ahead of ground troops.

A single white flag flies over Mursid Nigris'south house on the edge of a palm grove on the western outskirts of Hit, which lies in Anbar province, eighty-five miles (one hundred forty kilometers) W of the Iraqi capital. Behind his home, black clouds of smoke rise from the town'south center. Counterterrorism forces pushed IS out of this largely agricultural neighborhood on the outskirts of Hit Thursday, but have made tiny progress since.

Iraqi forces relaunched the operation to get Hit early Thursday morning below cover of coalition airstrikes. The town lies along a supply line linking the extremist group'south fighters in Iraq to those in neighboring Syria. Iraqi commanders declare retaking the town will be a key step to link up government forces in Iraq'south W and N in preparation for an eventual thrust on Mosul.

The original thrust was delayed by political instability in the capital, Baghdad. When anti-government protests escalated latest month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pulled some military units from Anbar to Baghdad.

After parts of Ramadi fell to Iraqi forces in December latest year, the government and the U. S.-led coalition have tried to construct on those gains, emotional up the Euphrates river valley and clearing IS from villages as they went. In the months that followed, thousands of civilians fleeing Iraqi military operations across Anbar descended on Hit.

While Iraqi forces have evacuated thousands of families as they've retaken territory from IS, thousands more simply fled or were forcibly moved by IS fighters as they retreated. The operations to Hit'south north, W and S have effectively boxed civilians in to the small town.

"They honestly are just looking for a secure space they can reach quickly, they don't care if it's IS controlled or not," said a Capt with the counterterrorism forces overseeing the Hit operation.

He spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to brief the press.

Nigris, a 45-year-old farmer, is hosting 20 members of his extended family in his ordinary farm house. Although Hit fell to IS latest summer, the town has remained relatively secure as airstrikes and the initial clashes between IS and Iraqi forces focused on the larger cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

"Daesh would arrive to our house and interrogate us," Nigris said, using an arabic acronym for IS. "They'd demand we confess we're with the police or the military."

Eventually, however, fighters largely left his family alone. The problem then was the longer IS stayed in Hit, the harder it became to discover food, water and fuel for his family, Nigris said. Trade with the rest of the country ceased, and damage to the town'south infrastructure meant few people had access to running water.

"Militarily we could liberate Hit in just one day," said Gen. Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the top counterterrorism forces commander, "but we're having problems with the families stuck inside."

Al-Asadi said the civilians have prevented the coalition from launching airstrikes and Iraqi military units from using heavy artillery. While the counterterrorism forces are some of Iraq'south most capable ground forces, they're still heavily reliant on airstrikes to retake ground.

"This is a bigger problem than we saw in Ramadi. That city didn't contain that large of a no of civilians, at minimum not in such a concentrated area," al-Asadi said.

When Iraqi forces closed in on Ramadi in December, IS blocked the main roads out of the city, trapping families inside. Later, as the fighters were pushed out of some neighborhoods, they forced civilians to flee with them.

Hit is roughly a fifth of the size of Ramadi. Initial estimates of the no of civilians in Ramadi were around a thousand, but as Iraqi forces cleared the city many thousands more were discovered.

Al-Asadi said his forces are prepared to assistance evacuate civilians in Hit as they did in Ramadi, where special forces evacuated families as they took over territory. He added, however, that he believed the large no of trapped civilians would become an ever bigger complication facing operations as forces move N to the IS-held city of Mosul.

The Capt with the counterterrorism forces overseeing the Hit operation says he doesn't believe IS has the manpower in Hit required to move civilians with them as they flee, but his men are still struggling to avert civilian casualties when coordinating airstrikes.

"We're telling the civilians to tag their houses in a certain way so we can tell who's and who isn't a fighter," the Capt said.

Initially he said his forces asked civilians in Ramadi to carry white flags as they fled, but the symbol was quickly adopted by IS to disguise counterattacks.

"It'south not simple always coming up with new signs," the captain said, "the latest time I saw a white flag it turned out to be a VBIED," he said using an American military acronym for a car bomb.

———

Associated Press writer Khalid Mohammed in Hit, Iraq contributed to this story

READ ALSO
Hillary Clinton's Campaign Says Bernie Sanders 'Rejected' NY Debate Dates

Hillary Clinton's Campaign Says Bernie Sanders 'Rejected' NY Debate Dates

Clinton'south campaign said in a statement that it offered April four as the first potential date, but the Sanders team wanted instead to schedule the debate after the WI primary on April five.

85
Children on Easter egg hunt form human arrow to direct British police to suspects

Children on Easter egg hunt form human arrow to direct British police to suspects

The grouping of thirty youngsters and adults were in a field in Capel, Surrey, on Excellent Friday when they spotted the aircraft circling overhead.

91
NFL players will let kids play football -- if they start older

NFL players will let kids play football -- if they start older

Woodyard was having breakfast. Seated in his lap was 2-year-old Greyson, his wide-eyed, curly-haired son who might one day wish to chase in the footsteps of his father.

128
Pet Connection: It’s mostly OK for dogs to graze on grass

Pet Connection: It’s mostly OK for dogs to graze on grass

A physical exam may bring to light the cause of an upset stomach, but sometimes we necessity further diagnostics. Blood work, a urinalysis and a stool sample to check for parasites can turn up problems that might relate to grass-eating.

83