WASHINGTON – After years of fighting, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) situation is still prevalent in our world today. One of the key strategies ISIS uses is a wide network of underground tunnels, making it hard to eliminate the militant group.
Last week, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” on one of the ISIS caves in Afghanistan. The military argued that the bombing of ISIS networks is needed to eliminate the terror group’s underground hideout.
In order to keep areas they have occupied under control, ISIS has created a network of underground tunnels in villages and cities. The network is a crucial part of their strategy as it allows them to move quickly and unpredictably, preventing them from being captured easily.
Due to the complexity of these underground networks, it is hard to know the number of tunnels ISIS has created. However, it has been reported that these networks are immense.
Upon the liberation of Mosul in 2015, an extensive network of underground tunnels towards the city has been discovered. Many of these tunnels contain traps and layers upon layers of different pathways.
These tunnels have posed many challenges for Iraqi forces as ISIS fighters often make use of underground tunnels to appear and disappear unexpectedly. These tunnels also allowed ISIS fighters to ambush unsuspecting Iraqi troops.
One commander said that he saw many ISIS fighters in eastern Mosul entering the streets through the tunnels. Sometimes, when a neighbourhood had been secured by Iraqi forces, ISIS fighters will make use of the tunnels and slip back in, firing at anyone they see.
“It’s like we are fighting two wars in two cities,” said Colonel Falah Al-Obaidi of the Iraqi counter-terror forces. “There’s the way on the streets and there is a whole city underground where they are hiding. Now it’s hard to consider an area liberated, because though we control the surface, ISIS will appear from under the ground, like rats.”
Tunnels are not new in strategic warfare, especially in guerilla wars. Jewish rebels had fought against Romans using tunnels while the Viet Cong had also made use of tunnel networks to fight against American troops.
ISIS fighters probably dug most of the tunnels with the help of enslaved civilians. In order to keep these tunnels undetected by satellites and drones, ISIS hid dirt in nearby houses. Lit with electric lights, these tunnels are well equipped. In some areas, Iraqi forces even found dormitories, flowered wallpaper, and even temporary kitchens.