Islamic State fighters are shaving their beards to escape Mosul undetected as Iraqi forces close in around the last ISIS-controlled area of the city.
Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridi told the Associated Press that ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul are shaving their beards to avoid detection and blend into the local population.
“They just shave their beards and walk out,” al-Aridi said. “Just yesterday we captured two among a group of women and children.”
Although Iraqi forces captured two of the militants, hundreds of others have slipped out of the Old City in Mosul and evaded capture. These fighters are fleeing to Syria, where the terror group still has some vestige of territory. ISIS initially captured the key city of Mosul in the summer of 2014. Since October 2016, U.S.-led forces supporting Iraqi troops have launched a slow assault to retake Mosul.
At this point in the fight, ISIS fighters have only 600 square yards of the city under their control.
Since the fighting has dragged on for so long, a United Nations official estimated Wednesday that infrastructure repair will amount to more than $1 billion. At least six out of 44 districts in western Mosul have been destroyed.
Iraqi commanders have predicted they’ll finish retaking the city completely by the end of the week. However, commanders from Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service believe the remaining non-Iraqi ISIS fighters will put up a frenetic fight to the death. Additionally, as Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon noted, the retaking of Mosul has been slow because of “tight alleyways with booby traps, civilians and ISIS fighters.”
Mosul’s recapture will signify the end of the caliphate’s largest operations in Iraq, with only a small amount of ISIS-controlled territory left in areas west and south of Mosul.
Iraqi forces meanwhile are laying siege to Raqqa, ISIS’ capital in Syria.
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