By Lucas Tomlinson
18 ISIS leaders have been killed in Iraq and Syria in the past month, a Baghdad-based US military spokesman told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday.
Fox News had reported last week on Special Report that over a dozen ISIS leaders had been killed in Mosul ahead of the expected ground operation next month in Iraq’s second largest city. Some of the ISIS leaders are Chechens who hold a “special place” with the terror group, said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition.
One of the critical tasks facing the Iraqi government in retaking Mosul from ISIS is the handling the expected 500-800,000 refugees expected to pour out of Mosul after ISIS is defeated, said Dorrian. He said the screening of the refugees is one of the most important components of the Mosul operation, saying it’s a conversation the US-led coalition has with the Iraqis “every day.” Dorrian said the screening process must be done under the “command and control” of the Iraqi government.
In June, following the liberation of Fallujah by Iraqi forces, hundreds of Iraqi Sunni refugees fleeing the city were reportedly abducted and later killed by Iranian-backed forces outside the city, including Kataaib Hezbollah, which was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in 2009 for attacking US forces in Iraq.
The United Nations said in July that 900 Iraqi refugees who left Fallujah were missing and at least 50 had been executed and blamed Iraqi Shia militias, many backed by Iran.
Some of these Iranian-backed forces are now located on the outskirts of Mosul, according to US officials.
Dorrian said the 615 troops going to Iraq that the defense secretary announced Wednesday would be the last increase needed to help the Iraqis take Mosul.
“We believe this is all the force we will need to liberate Mosul,” he said.
Dorrian said a sizable number of the new US troops going to Iraq are intelligence personnel that will be needed to sift through terabytes of information ISIS is expected to leave behind when they either flee the city or are killed.
When the ISIS supply hub of Manbij was liberated near Syria’s border with Turkey, 20 terabytes of information was recovered by US-backed forces, said Dorian calling it a “treasure trove” of information about ISIS that has since been shared with western intelligence agencies including those in Europe.
When asked why some troops are going to a remote airbase in western Iraq’s Anbar province, Dorrian said the goal is to turn al-Asad airbase located northwest of Ramadi into a 24/7 airport to fly drones and support Iraqi military aircraft. At the moment, the airbase can only support day time operations, he said.