Iraqi and Kurdish forces are bracing for more Islamic State suicide attacks as their offensive gets closer to Mosul, commanders say.
“We expect [Islamic State] to send as many suicide attackers as they could to the frontlines,” said Major General Fadhil al-Barwari, head of special operations at Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Bureau.
As they retake villages on the way to Mosul, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have already met stiff resistance from suicide attackers.
Several dozen cars and trucks laden with explosives and coming from Mosul were tracked by Kurdish and Iraqi forces since the offensive began this month, commanders say. Most of them have been destroyed by Iraqi tanks, or airstrikes by coalition forces, before they reached allied troops.
“We have foiled 15 suicide bombings in the past few days,” Barwari said.
Kurdish forces had difficulty entering the town of Bashiqa last week even as IS fighters were pushed back.
An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter stands guard outside Bartella, Iraq, Oct. 21, 2016. The historically Christian town is located some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Mosul's outskirts.
“There are many suicide car bombs in the town,” said Muhiyadin Ahmed, a Kurdish fighter, as his unit was preparing to enter Bashiqa. “We have to cautiously besiege it and then enter with armored vehicles to control it.”
A Kurdish military video on social media last week showed a car filled with attackers approaching the frontlines being destroyed by a missile strike.
“We got it,” one soldier screamed as the car exploded in a cloud of black smoke.
Kurdish commanders say that when they examine wreckage from suicide vehicles, they have found the bodies of teenagers as young as 14-years-old.
“Most of them are really young,” said Bahram Yasin, a Kurdish Peshmerga commander, stationed near Bashiqa.
Iraqi intelligence chief Barwari said IS is likely round up civilians and use them as human shields or forced participants in massive suicide attacks. The U.N. says that that IS has seized “tens of thousands” of civilians in the Mosul area.