A pair of Peshmerga soldiers on the Makhmour front. Photo: Farzin Hassan/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish security forces are developing a plan for security for the Region after ISIS is finally defeated in Mosul, focusing on targeting the legacy of the extremist group’s ideology amid an apparent uptick in ISIS activity in the Kurdistan Region.
Four ISIS-related security events occurred within tens of kilometres of Erbil city in the month of February, bringing coalition airstrikes closer to the Kurdish capital than they have ever been.
On February 3, the coalition carried out an airstrike just 20 kilometres from Erbil, destroying an ISIS front end loader and dump truck, the coalition’s daily airstrike report detailed.
“To date, the Feb. 3 strike is the closest the Coalition has struck near Erbil,” the coalition’s media office confirmed to Rudaw English via email.
A second airstrike the next week, on February 11, targeted “an ISIL tactical unit; destroyed an ISIL-held building and a weapons cache,” according to the strike report for that day. This strike was 30 kilometres from the Kurdish capital, the coalition told to Rudaw English.
In early February, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) reported the arrests of five Kurds trying to join ISIS in Hawija.
“We headed to Erbil and from there we went to Makhmour district,” the group’s leader Hawar Yousif Abdulkarim stated in a confession made public by the KRSC. The group was arrested in Makhmour, about 50 kilometres from Erbil, before they were able to enter ISIS-held Hawija.
This week, at least two people were arrested outside a popular Erbil mall. They are facing charges of being ISIS members, the head of Erbil security announced.
In mid-January, security forces in Sulaimani announced that they had arrested 60 ISIS militants including three leaders and killed 14 others. Many had infiltrated Sulaimani province from Mosul.
ISIS is expected to increase insurgency-style attacks as they are defeated in population centres in Iraq.
“What we’re finding is that as we dismantle their ability to control vast swathes of territory, they’re devolving into the type of insurgency we’ve always seen before. And so these types of attacks, or them being in these areas is representative of that effect,” coalition spokesperson Col. John Dorrian told Rudaw English earlier this week.
He said that ISIS is devolving into the terror organization that they actually are and is trying to distract from the main fight, the liberation of Mosul.
Kurdish security forces are stressing the safety of Erbil, located 80 kilometres from Mosul. “From a military perspective, Erbil is far from the frontlines of the war with ISIS,” Halgurd Hikmat, head of war media at the Ministry of Peshmerga, told Rudaw English.
He said that ISIS activities are in fact “on the wane as they continue to retreat on the frontlines of the war,” reassuring that the Peshmerga have a plan to counter any developing threats that may emerge.
The most significant challenge they face is defeating ISIS’ extremist ideology, “an ideology that does not know any borders.” The Kurdistan Regional Government is discussing this threat with foreign diplomatic missions in Erbil, he detailed.
The security strategy “that we will be adopting after the liberation of Mosul will be different from the one that we had before the liberation of the city,” Hikmat said, but declined to give details.
The Peshmerga and the coalition have both declined to provide more specific details of the two airstrikes conducted near Erbil this month. Dorrian, however, confirmed that a team on the ground would have inspected the sites of the strikes after they were carried out to assess the results.
“What I would say is that [ISIS] unit is neutralized,” said Dorrian. “So the assessment probably comes more for the funeral director than anything else.”