Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-05-28 10:35:53
U.S.-led coalition strikes supporting Iraqi forces in the recapture of Falluja have killed 70 Islamic State militants including the group's commander in the city, a U.S military spokesman said on Friday.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State, said the coalition had carried out 20 strikes in support of the campaign over the past four days.
Maher al-Bilawi, commander of Islamic State fighters in Falluja, was killed two days ago, Warren said. He said the killing of Bilawi and the other militants "won't completely cause the enemy to stop fighting but it's a blow."
The final battle to recapture the Islamic State stronghold near Baghdad will start in "days, not weeks", a Shi'ite militia leader said on Friday, as new reports emerged of people starving to death in the besieged Sunni city.
The first phase of the offensive that started on Monday is nearly finished, with the complete encirclement of the city that lies 50 km (32 miles) west of the Iraqi capital, said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization.
Wearing military fatigues, Amiri spoke to state-TV from the operations area with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi standing by his side in the black uniform of Iraq's counter-terrorism force.
At the end of last year, Abadi said 2016 would be the year of the final victory over Islamic State, which declared a caliphate two years ago in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.
Falluja is a bastion of the insurgency that fought the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi'ite-led authorities that replaced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. It was the first city captured by Islamic State in Iraq, in January 2014, and is the second-largest still held by the militants after Mosul, their de-facto capital.
Amiri said this week the Shi'ite paramilitary coalition known as Popular Mobilization would only take part in the encirclement operations, and would let the army storm Falluja. It would only enter the city if the army's attack failed.
The army has defused more than 250 explosive devices planted by the militants in roads and villages to delay the troops' advance, state TV said, citing military officers. More»