MOSUL IRAQ / WASHINGTON —
As the Islamic State group's arsenal of sophisticated weaponry dwindles, IS fighters are creating more homemade armaments.
Commanders in the battlefield in Iraq told VOA this week that months of separate bombing campaigns by the U.S. coalition, Russian, and Iraqi government planes have wiped out much of the terror group's heavy weapons and equipment that it collected in recent years.
That is forcing IS fighters “to turn to these strange weapons,” said Jamal Syare, the commander of a Kurdish force on the Khazir frontline north of Mosul.
“The weapons are made from gas canisters and thick iron pipes filled with explosives or, sometimes, fertilizers,” Syare said, as he looked over a display of the homemade arsenal uncovered by Kurdish forces.
WATCH: IS Turns to Homemade Weapons
Losing territory means no more armories to loot
When IS fighters overran Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul in June 2014, Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and retreated, giving IS access to huge caches of U.S.-made weapons, including thousands of arms, ammunition and other equipment like Humvees. And as IS made more territorial advances in Iraq and Syria, they seized more weaponry, helping them substantially strengthen their position in their self-proclaimed caliphate.
In the past 10 months, however, IS has lost large swaths of territory and strategic towns in Iraq and Syria without much significant territorial gain, making it hard for the militants to obtain more weaponry through the spoils of war.
Additionally, the U.S-led coalition airstrikes have been consistently pounding IS positions, especially targeting weapons storage areas. The Pentagon this week reported that it destroyed an IS chemical weapons factory in Iraq.
And as a major allied assault looms on IS’s Iraq stronghold in Mosul, advancing troops are finding that IS is attacking with more rudimentary – and far less accurate – weaponry such as bombs and mortars made of explosives and nails.
“IS fighters are increasingly attacking our frontline with these homemade weapons,” said Syare, the Kurdish commander.
The homemade bombs can reach as far as five kilometers but often miss their targets, according to Syare and other Kurdish fighters who spoke to VOA.
Taha Rasul, a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter on the Telskuf frontline, told VOA that the weapons are so inaccurate that they can backfire on IS fighters.
“Sometimes the weapons pass us, sometimes they fall near us, and other times they just fall (near) the IS fighters,” Rasul told VOA.
Jamal Syare, a Kurdish commander, shows detonated IS homemade stone-shaped bombs and propane tank bombs in Khazir, north of Mosul. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Syare)
Still, the fallout from the blasts can range from annoying to creating some serious injuries, Rasul said.
“These weapons can spread a terrible smell or a loud sound when they fell near our frontline,” he said.“Terrorists are very weakened and they want to prove they still exist by firing these stinky and loud bombs.”
Tactics honed during Iraq War
The homemade bombs harken back to a tactic used against U.S-coalition forces by insurgents after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurdish commanders say. IS fighters are learning from their leaders who used to serve as officers during the former Iraqi Ba'ath regime.
“No matter how inaccurate, these weapons need some degree of expertise,” Syare told VOA. “The terrorists are obtaining that expertise from the former Baath generals who play a big role in keeping IS resilient.”
While mortar shells made out of gas canisters and pipes often cause minimal damage, IS homemade improvised explosive devices (IED's) can be deadly, according to Syare, who said he has detonated 130 tons of explosives in recent weeks.
“IS fighters plant IED's in everything they leave behind,” Syare said. “They’ve planted explosives in animal corpses, power fuses, cooking pots and anything you can think of. You open a refrigerator and the next thing you see is an explosion.”
Syare has been working with a group of U.S. and British advisers to raise awareness among his fellow Kurdish fighters who generally lack knowledge about encountering unconventional IS weapons.
“Sometimes the terrorists have planted bombs under a Quran,” he alleged. “So many Peshmerga have lost their lives picking up the Quran thinking terrorists will not use the book of God for their evil purposes; but, we need to be prepared. We can’t trust or touch anything IS leaves behind.”