‘Take cover!’ Tack­ling IS car bombs

Kuwait Times - - FROM THE ARABIC PRESS -

It only takes a split sec­ond for the ex­pres­sion on the Iraqi sol­dier’s face to trans­form from re­laxed con­tent­ment to ab­so­lute ter­ror. “Car bomb!” The scream slices across the oth­er­wise quiet af­ter­noon in Karkukli, a heav­ily dam­aged east­ern district of Iraq’s sec­ond city Mo­sul. Spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces have seized the western half of Karkukli from the Is­lamic State group, but the east­ern half-like most of Mo­sul-re­mains un­der IS con­trol.

IS has re­peat­edly turned to sui­cide car bomb­ings as part of its de­fense against Iraqi forces since the op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul was launched four weeks ago. Elite army troops are fin­ish­ing their typ­i­cal lunch of rice and tomato sauce on Mon­day af­ter­noon when the warn­ing comes through on the Diyala Reg­i­ment’s walkie-talkie chan­nel. “Ar­moured Kia Sportage com­ing your way. Take cover now!” The elite Counter-Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) fight­ers burst into pan­icked ac­tion, shout­ing at the few civil­ians on the dusty rub­ble-strewn road to hide.

Any sol­diers car­ry­ing weapons lighter than rocket-pro­pelled grenades scram­ble into aban­doned homes, with some kick­ing through win­dows to get in­side. “Grab the bazookas!” one unit leader bel­lows to his forces, sev­eral of whom grab anti-tank mis­siles and take up po­si­tions at in­ter­sec­tions where they can spot the car. Drenched in sweat, driv­ers leap into Humvees and tanks to block off access to the main road. “Sus­pi­cious ve­hi­cle is head­ing north,” a voice ra­dios to Lieu­tenant Ab­bas of the Diyala Reg­i­ment, stand­ing on a rooftop over­look­ing his unit’s for­ward po­si­tions in Karkukli.

The sus­pected car bomb is about 150 me­ters from the CTS’s base in­side the neigh­bor­hood, he tells AFP. It is driv­ing slowly along a main thor­ough­fare di­vid­ing the neigh­bor­hood’s east and west, likely look­ing for a route that could bring it closer to CTS forces. But the troops spent the morn­ing block­ing off about a dozen al­ley­ways with tanks and bull­doz­ers, and the Kia Sportage strug­gles to find a way through. “It reached our for­ti­fied po­si­tions and is turn­ing back,” the same voice says min­utes later. “Roger. I’ll have Hus­sein set up one (anti-tank mis­sile) for you at the end of the al­ley,” Ab­bas re­sponds.

The search is on

While the im­mi­nent dan­ger has sub­sided, CTS forces re­main on high alert-the search is on. The gun­fire and yelling has died down, and Karkukli’s now-de­serted streets are eerily quiet as tense CTS sol­diers wait for news of the car’s lo­ca­tion. As soon as he heard of the sus­pi­cious ve­hi­cle, Lieu­tenant Haidar Hus­sein bounded up the steps to the rooftop of the aban­doned three-storey home his unit is us­ing as a base.

The young, clean-shaven sol­dier is re­spon­si­ble for fly­ing the Mo­sul Reg­i­ment’s sur­veil­lance drone, which has been in­stru­men­tal in help­ing them spot in­com­ing car bombs. Usu­ally, Hus­sein lo­cates the booby­trapped cars, which are then tar­geted by CTS tanks or air strikes from the US-led coali­tion war­planes cir­cling above. He isn’t so lucky on Mon­day. “I put the drone up in the sky as soon as I heard there was a sus­pi­cious car, but I can’t find it,” he says, fix­ated on the bird’s-eye view of Karkukli dis­played on the tablet screen in front of him.

The clock is tick­ing-the drone’s bat­ter­ies only last 20 min­utes and he has no other charged units. “I’m mon­i­tor­ing this area here, as it’s the only way the car can reach us,” Hus­sein ex­plains, point­ing to a de­serted main road lead­ing into Karkukli from an ad­ja­cent in­dus­trial zone. He shakes his head and starts di­rect­ing the drone back to­wards his rooftop, sprin­kled with bro­ken glass and empty cans of cheap en­ergy drinks guz­zled by young fight­ers. Min­utes later, a pair of grin­ning CTS sol­diers emerge from the stair­case. One sets his anti-tank mis­sile in a cor­ner of the rooftop. “It’s gone,” the other says, wav­ing his hand to in­di­cate that the car has left their neigh­bor­hood and that they are safe-for now. — AFP

MO­SUL: Sol­diers from the Iraqi Spe­cial Forces 2nd di­vi­sion car­ry­ing rocket pro­pelled grenades (RPG) and anti tank mis­siles take up po­si­tions to pre­pare for a sui­cide bomb ve­hi­cle that was re­ported to be moving to­wards their po­si­tion as they en­gage with Is­lamic State (IS) group fight­ers in Mo­sul’s Karkukli neigh­bor­hood. — AFP

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