US-backed Iraqi forces scored a major victory this week when they retook Hawija, one of the Islamic State’s last strongholds in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Security Force “continues to prove they are a battle-hardened, professional force dedicated to ridding their country of an evil enemy,” said Lt. Gen. Paul Funk.
According to reports, at least 1,000 ISIS militants surrendered. Such surrenders are rare.
“They’re giving up,” said Funk. “Their leaders are abandoning them.”
The victory in Hawija, which is the latest in a string of defeats for ISIS, suggests militants are becoming demoralized as ISIS struggles to defend what remains of the territory it captured in 2014.
A major part of ISIS’ fierce reputation is the willingness of rank-and-file members to fight to the death, but we have seen less of this behavior since July, when Iraq finally retook the city of Mosul.
The battle for Mosul took nine months, and few surrendered. The campaign to liberate Hawija took 15 days.
“They’re coming out with their hands up, putting their weapons down – full scale surrender,” said Funk. “It’s a growing trend.”
Kurdish officials have been confused by the number of militants who have surrendered in the past few days. Many of the fighters insist they were ordered to turn themselves into the Kurds – possibly to avoid capture by the Shiite Muslim militiamen, who have a reputation for executing captives.
Nearly 7,000 family members came with the militants who surrendered to the Kurds.
“Maybe it’s some deal. Maybe it’s just bad morale, I don’t know,” says Captain Ali Muhammed Syan, who is in charge of screening the arriving ISIS fighters in Dibis (Kirkuk Province). “Hawija held the toughest ISIS fighters, and I never believed they would surrender in this way. It’s really weird.”
Iraq’s struggle against ISIS began in 2014 when the group seized nearly one-third of the country and announced plans to establish a caliphate. There were an estimated 30,000 ISIS militants in Iraq at the peak of the group’s strength. Today, roughly 3,000 fighters remain.
Coalition officials are optimistic but have been quick to remind us that the fight is far from over.
“ISIS militants still control a string of towns and villages stretching along the Euphrates River in Iraq and Syria, where they are expected to make a last stand,” reports USA Today.
Editor’s note: That’s a lot of terrorists who may be losing heart. A trend?