U.S. warplanes take out ISIS sleeper cell in Iraq

May 22, 2018

U.S. and allied warplanes destroyed an Islamic State sleeper cell near the terror group’s former stronghold of Mosul Tuesday, ending with roughly 12 jihadists dead, military officials in Baghdad say.

The strikes targeted a segment of underground bunkers and tunnels used by Islamic State, or ISIS, fighters to defend the northern Iraqi city against Iraqi troops, backed by U.S. and coalition airpower, during last year’s offensive to retake Mosul.

The recent airstrikes come amid questions whether the White House and the Pentagon will maintain its military presence in Iraq to support Baghdad’s efforts to stamp out remaining ISIS cells, or withdraw U.S. troops from the country. The Trump administration has already indicated its desire to scale back American military forces battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Members of the Iraqi military’s Directorate of Intelligence were in the midst of a clearing operation in the Husseiniya area of Mosul on Tuesday, when they came upon a group of ISIS fighters near the targeted bunker and tunnel complex, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, Iraq’s spokesman for the Joint Military Command, told al Hurrah. During the ensuring firefight, Iraqi troops killed two fighters and subsequently called for coalition air support.

Command officials at Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, approved the request and the ensuring strikes “led to the destruction of the tunnel and the killing of terrorist elements within him, which is estimated at more than ten [fighters],” Gen. Rasool said.

U.S. and coalition officials had yet to release a statement concerning Tuesday’s airstrikes near Mosul, but Gen. Rasool said Iraqi forces have stepped up counterinsurgency operations against ISIS remnants, which have regrouped into sleeper cells across the country.

Iraqi intelligence claims those cells were in the midst of plotting major attacks in northern Iraq and elsewhere in the country, in the wake of recent parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, an Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced Belgian national Tarik Jadaoun also known as Abu Hamza al-Beljiki to death for his role with the Islamic State. Jadaoun appeared in several ISIS propaganda videos, threatening attacks against Europe and the West.

U.S. and allied commanders are working closely with their regional counterparts in the anti-Islamic State or ISIS coalition to draft a plan on what to do with the hundreds of terrorist detainees taken into custody in Iraq and Syria.

“The [ISIS] detainees that are in the hands of our partners, and there are several partners in the region, they now number in the hundreds,” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said in January.

“We have engaged in a concerted effort to contact [detainees] countries of origin, to determine whether ... they are willing to take them back,” he told reporters at the time.