The British SAS have been conducting several operations in the hilly, remote part of northern Iraq. They have been targeting ISIS leadership in an attempt to stop the terrorist group’s resurgence. ISIS has been largely, but not completely eradicated from Iraq.
The U.K. special operators have been working closely with Kurdish resistance fighters who have done the lion’s share of the fighting. The Kurds pushed most of ISIS out of Iraq after its self-styled “caliphate” arose in 2014. At the time, the Iraqi government was weakened by the departure of U.S. and coalition troops; and the Syrian government was in the midst of a bloody civil war. They were thus unable to nip them in the bud. ISIS, it turned out, was far from “the JV Team” that the Obama administration characterized them at the time.
Now, the SAS and Kurdish fighters are conducting what has been characterized as a “secret war” to prevent a an ISIS resurgence as the central Iraqi government is weakened by internal power struggles.
Several different U.K. news sources have quoted an unnamed British military source stating that the SAS has conducted at least 10 operations in northern Iraq and Syria since mid-April and have killed at least 100 ISIS fighters, including many leaders and British citizens who joined ISIS’s ranks. DNA tests conducted on the killed jihadists confirmed their identity.
Last fall, the SAS were rumored to be planning similar operations in Syria. They were concerned that the Turkish invasion would result in massive escapes of ISIS fighters from jails under the control of the Kurds, and therefore in an ISIS resurgence. At the time there were reported “kill or capture” missions for Sunni ISIS fighters being planned in the event of a large escape of the terrorists.
In these latest operations, SAS operators and Kurdish fighters tracked large ISIS concentrations to caves in northern Iraq. They moved into position and used concentrated sniper, artillery fire, and precision airstrikes using RAF Typhoons and MQ-9 Reaper drones to take out large numbers of ISIS fighters.
Since being largely expelled from most of Iraq in 2017 and from Syria in 2018, ISIS fighters have been largely confined to the remote hilly terrain in northern Iraq. There they have used cave complexes to refit, reform, and plan terror activities. The caves give them some protection from coalition air assets.
According to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, the British are not willing to allow ISIS fighters to escape from prisons and having to fight them all over again — especially in an area that has already been devastated by ISIS when it wrested control over parts of Iraq and Syria a few years ago.
“The use of RAF jets and Reaper aircraft to deliver successful strikes against terrorists and their hideouts demonstrates that the U.K.’s defense never sleeps and we will always do what is necessary to protect our people,” Wallace said.
One such operation conducted in the Hamrin mountains on April 28 by the SAS and Kurdish fighters resulted in the death of 10 ISIS fighters, including jihadis of British citizenship.
The British claim that no civilian casualties have resulted from these operations.
The unnamed defense source speaking to the Sunday Mail said, “The regiment has been having a field day. It’s been hard soldiering in tough conditions, very hot and mountainous, and Islamic State fights to the death.”
“Around 100 militants have been eliminated. There was a major battle every few days in May followed by some big clashes in June too.”
“It is imperative that [ISIS] doesn’t get a foothold in the region again.”
“The RAF’s bombing has been very accurate with no civilian casualties and there have definitely been British jihadis among the deceased. They’ve been identified during the battle in communications intercepts and afterward from ID cards and by DNA.”
The subject of British citizens is a thorny issue with the British government. One such person, a 20-year old woman named Shamima Begum, left England to join ISIS in 2015. After living for three years with the terror group, she had three children with an ISIS fighter who was killed during the fighting.
Begum is now in a refugee camp, where she arrived almost 18 months ago, begging for rescue by British authorities. Yet, she stated that she did not regret joining ISIS. She is soon to return to England and fight to get her U.K. citizenship back. She has ditched the burqa that she wore and is now dressing in Western clothing including jeans, form-fitting shirts, and a Western-style hat.