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SAS snipers target British jihadis' cave hideaways in Iraq

18 Jul 2020 Daily Mail Online

Special Forces sniper teams have targeted British jihadis in fierce cave battles in the mountains of northern Iraq, killing at least 100 fighters in a ‘secret war’ to crush an Islamic State resurgence.

In scenes similar to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan after 9/11, elite SAS troops have tracked IS killers, including British volunteers, to their hideouts in the remote highlands.

They have then taken them out using sniper rifles, artillery rounds and precision airstrikes launched from RAF Typhoon jets and unmanned UK Reaper drones.

Elite SAS troops have tracked IS killers, including British volunteers, to their hideouts in the remote highlands

Defence sources last night confirmed that there have been at least ten battles in northern Iraq in the past three months, with further secret operations in neighbouring Syria.

Several UK jihadis are understood to have been killed in the fighting, many of whom had escaped from desert prison camps and returned to their military units.

They took shelter in rugged terrain in northern Iraq where Islamic State uses a network of caves and tunnels to avoid capture.

The renewed assault began on April 10 when UK ground troops, accompanied by British-trained Kurdish soldiers, forced fanatics to take refuge in a building before an SAS radio operator called in two Typhoons based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and a drone flown by controllers at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

How elite troops waged ‘secret war'

1) April 28 

Two RAF Typhoons destroy caves in the Hamrin mountains, in the north-east of Bayji, Iraq, where Islamic State fighters are hiding, killing ten militants. Six caves are targeted with Paveway IV bombs in the night-time attack, with British jihadis among the dead.

2) May 8 

An unmanned Reaper drone (pictured, top), controlled from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, strikes an IS bunker in northern Iraq using a laser-guided bomb.

3) May 10 

Two Typhoons are sent on a reconnaissance mission patrol. US Special Forces are notified of IS fighters in caves near Lake Tharthar, south-east of Hatra. Three militants are killed.

4) May 13 

An RAF Reaper drone strikes two IS bunkers in northern Iraq, west of Tuz Khurmatu. It is not known how many are killed.

5) May 23 

A Reaper drone kills IS fighters found hiding in woods in northern Iraq. Military equipment and explosives belonging to the fighters are also destroyed.

6) May 31 

IS fighters tracked to a mountain lair 17 miles west of Tuz Khurmatu are hit by a GBU-12 bomb and Hellfire missile.

7) June 3 

A pair of Typhoons are involved in a coalition Air Force attack on an IS headquarters, 35 miles north-west of Kirkuk.

8) June 22

An IS IED storage facility is identified 35 miles north-west of Tikrit. Two Typhoons drop four bombs on a cave network.

9) June 24 

Another cave network in the Makhmur Mountains is destroyed by four Paveway bombs. 


A dramatic night battle between the SAS and Islamic State followed on April 28. At least ten militants were killed when Special Forces soldiers found jihadis hiding in caves in the Hamrin mountains.

Again, the RAF was called in to provide cave-busting firepower. According to debriefing reports, Paveway IV laser-guided bombs were dropped on to six caves before SAS and Kurdish troops cleared the entire complex.

The attacks in April were followed by five battles in May where the RAF launched fighter jets and drones. Last night, a defence source said: ‘The regiment has been having a field day. It’s been hard soldiering in tough conditions, very hot and mountainous, and Islamic State fights to the death.

‘Around 100 militants have been eliminated. There was a major battle every few days in May followed by some big clashes in June too.

‘The RAF’s bombing has been very accurate with no civilian casualties and there have definitely been British jihadis among the deceased. They’ve been identified during the battle in communications intercepts and afterwards from ID cards and by DNA.


‘It is imperative that IS doesn’t get a foothold in the region again.’

According to official Ministry of Defence accounts, the RAF dropped ordnance on IS bases on May 8, 10, 13, 23 and 31. The Typhoons and Reapers have fired GBU-12 guided bombs, Paveway IV missiles and Hellfire missiles. There have been no reports of any SAS casualties.

Further engagements were noted on June 3, 22 and 24, says the MoD.

IS lost its deadly stranglehold on Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2018 but its fighters have been reforming, triggering a response from British and Coalition special forces. 

Earlier this year, its leaders also called on followers to exploit the global Covid pandemic to launch attacks.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The use of RAF jets and Reaper aircraft to deliver successful strikes against terrorists and their hideouts demonstrates that the UK’s defence never sleeps and we will always do what is necessary to protect our people.’

IS lost its deadly stranglehold on Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2018 but its fighters have been reforming, triggering a response from British and Coalition special forces

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