Coalition, Iraqi air strikes kill scores of ISIL militants fleeing Fallujah
AP photoAir strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces have killed scores of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants who were fleeing their erstwhile bastion of Fallujah.
Iraqi commanders said June 30 that ISIL fighters fleeing Fallujah had taken a heavy toll from strikes by both Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition aircraft.
They said at least 260 vehicles were destroyed and 150 militants killed in strikes that began late June 28 as routed jihadists attempted to leave their last positions west of the city in huge convoys.
“Our heroes in the military aviation destroyed more than 200 vehicles,” said Yahya Rasool, the spokesman of the Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against ISIL.
The Defense Ministry released aerial footage showing dozens of vehicles being destroyed.
Rasool said commandos had also seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
He said at least 150 ISIL militants were killed in the strikes, although it was not clear how the dead were counted and identified.
Rasool was referring to a first series of strikes on a massive convoy of several hundred vehicles heading south of Fallujah toward the desert, apparently to areas ISIL still controls near the border with Syria.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials told Reuters that U.S.-led coalition aircraft waged a series of deadly strikes against ISIL around Fallujah, with one citing a preliminary estimate of at least 250 suspected fighters killed and at least 40 vehicles destroyed.
At least another 60 ISIL vehicles were destroyed later by air strikes conducted by Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition aircraft on a convoy heading northwest of Fallujah, Anbar Operations Command chief Ismail Mahalawi told AFP.
He could not provide an estimate for the number of ISIL fighters killed in those strikes.
“This is a desperate attempt on the part of the terrorists to flee to their areas in al-Qaim near the Syrian border and Tharthar,” Mahalawi said.
Tharthar is a lake north of the Euphrates surrounded by desert through which ISIL fighters still have lines to reach Mosul, the country’s second city and their last remaining major Iraqi hub.
Iraqi forces have retaken full control of Fallujah, a longtime jihadist bastion just 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, after a vast operation that was launched in May.
After tough battles to breach ISIL defenses in south Fallujah, elite Iraqi forces conquered the rest of the city with relative ease.
They took full control of the city on June 26 after ISIL fighters abandoned the Jolan neighborhood without firing a shot and retreated to rural areas to the west.
Iraq inks deal for $2.7 bln US military loan
Meanwhile, Iraq secured a deal June 30 for a $2.7 billion U.S. loan to finance the buying of ammunition and maintenance of tanks and fighters used in the fight against ISIL.
A U.S. embassy statement said the declaration of intent was signed by Ambassador Stuart Jones and Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
The U.S. Foreign Military Finance credit facility will help Iraq “defer payment for the purchase of ammunition and maintenance of its F-16s [jets] and M1A1 [Abrams] tanks,” Jones said.
The deal gives Iraq eight-and-a-half years to pay for its military purchases, in what the statement said was part of Washington’s efforts to ensure Baghdad’s economic difficulties do not affect the fight against ISIL.
Iraq, whose economy is overwhelmingly reliant on oil, is facing a bruising budget crunch caused by the drop in crude prices and the ongoing cost of the war on ISIL.