Qay­yarah: From IS con­trol to bat­tle hub

Hun­dreds of forces from 60-na­tion coali­tion de­ployed here

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

QAY­YARAH: Just months af­ter its re­cap­ture from the Is­lamic State group, the sprawl­ing Qay­yarah base in north Iraq has be­come a hub for op­er­a­tions to re­take Mo­sul from the ji­hadists. Iraq this week an­nounced the start of op­er­a­tions to re­take Mo­sul, its last city held by IS, and se­cu­rity forces are fight­ing their way to­ward it from the north, east and south. Iraqi po­lice and sol­diers, and hun­dreds of forces from the US-led coali­tion against IS are also de­ployed here, car­ry­ing out ar­tillery strikes against the ji­hadists and work­ing to re­build the base.

“It is an area for mo­bi­liz­ing the units tak­ing part in lib­er­at­ing the city of Mo­sul and the vil­lages... sur­round­ing it,” Staff Bri­gadier Gen­eral Qusay Kad­him Hamid, a se­nior com­man­der in the in­te­rior min­istry’s elite rapid re­sponse forces, said of the base. Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Raed Taw­fiq Jaw­dat, com­man­der of the fed­eral po­lice, said it is the most im­por­tant base for sup­ply­ing Iraqi forces that are ad­vanc­ing to­ward Mo­sul from the south.

There are at least 7,000 forces de­ployed in Iraq as part of a 60-na­tion coali­tion as­sist­ing the war against IS in Iraq and Syria. At least half of them are Amer­i­cans. The base is sur­rounded by a mas­sive dirt berm, with tanks and other ar­mored ve­hi­cles po­si­tioned in­side. Most of the sol­diers and po­lice on the base are housed in tents that are coated with the pow­dery dust that cov­ers the ground in the base and the desert be­yond. IS ji­hadists did their best to deny Iraqi forces use of the base be­fore they lost it in July, de­stroy­ing build­ings, top­pling con­crete walls, and dis­abling the run­way.

‘A lot of dam­age’

“We saw there was a lot of dam­age. Daesh did a lot of de­lib­er­ate dam­age to try to make the base as (un­use­able) as pos­si­ble,” Ma­jor Chris Parker, a spokesman for the US-led coali­tion, told AFP at Qay­yarah, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for the ji­hadist group. The run­way “was com­pletely un­use­able when we came in,” with trenches dug in it and bombs placed in the area, Parker said. Ev­i­dence of fur­ther de­struc­tion is also vis­i­ble from the base, where a huge cloud of smoke ris­ing from oil wells set alight by IS is an ever-present fea­ture of the hori­zon. The smoke, which IS sought to use as cover from air strikes, some­times blows over the base it­self, black­en­ing the sky like an ap­proach­ing storm.

Coali­tion and Iraqi forces have been work­ing to re­build Qay­yarah, and “we’ve seen the base de­velop very quickly,” Parker said. The US air force has fin­ished re­pair­ing the run­way, which will even­tu­ally al­low sup­plies to be flown in by cargo planes as well as ar­riv­ing on the ground, though it is not yet open for use, he said. Al­ready, “there’s a lot of lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port coming out of here” for the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion, Parker said. There is also “a lot of fire sup­port. So Qay­yarah is very im­por­tant to the Mo­sul lib­er­a­tion,” bat­tle hub said.

Amer­i­can and French ar­tillery is de­ployed at the base, car­ry­ing out strikes against IS and also fir­ing il­lu­mi­na­tion and smoke rounds in sup­port of Iraqi troops. Amer­i­can HIMARS rocket launch­ers can hit IS far to the north, with a range that ex­tends to the city of Mo­sul. The HIMARS po­si­tion is marked by a spray­painted sign read­ing “Rocket City,” with the rusty tails of old bombs or rock­ets stuck in the ground in front. Hulk­ing Pal­adin mo­bile ar­tillery pieces are sta­tioned nearby, with tents of cam­ou­flage net­ting pro­vid­ing shel­ter for the sol­diers who man them. While the base is rel­a­tively safe, IS has tar­geted it with ar­tillery be­fore. But the bat­tle is mov­ing far­ther away from Qay­yarah as Iraqi troops close in on Mo­sul. — AFP

QAY­YARAH: An Iraqi man walks as smokes bil­lows in the dis­tance. — AFP

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