Can US and its allies stop ISIL's use of human shields?
U.S. military commanders are drawing up plans to block Islamic State militants from using human shields to escape Mosul and other cities, as U.S.-backed ground forces prepare to expel them from their remaining strongholds in Iraq and Syria.What they need to do is cut off their avenues of retreat and do so before launching the final assault. That would involve using more than just air power to hit them as they leave. Whether the Iraqis are up to that task is still an open question, and it is doubtful that Obama would approve using US forces in such an effort.
“I think we need to be prepared for them to try to find ways to get out,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander in the Middle East, said in an interview at the air campaign's headquarters here. “That will be part of the planning that we're looking through right now.”
U.S. commanders have been frustrated by tactics the militants have used to avoid annihilation — fleeing just as their defenses are about to collapse, a central part of the militants' game plan.
Last month, hundreds of fighters escaped Manbij in northern Syria by placing civilians in a convoy of 500 vehicles. Hundreds of militants were killed in battle but several hundred others escaped with weapons and may have gone elsewhere to defend Islamic State territory. The Pentagon said it didn’t fire on the convoy for fear of hitting civilians.
Military planners said they will design surveillance and other intelligence to determine when militants will quit fighting and attempt to escape. That might allow U.S. aircraft to strike militants before they can grab civilians.
For example, they are watching for signs militant commanders use to order their fighters to flee, which might allow for pre-emptive strikes. Determining exactly when they retreat, however, has been complicated by the fact that Islamic State leaders have less control over their fighters after so many recent battle losses.
“They are going to know when (Iraq’s military) is getting closer and then it will be: Are they going to get told to stand and fight or are they going to look for ways out,” Harrigian said.
Islamic State tactics have followed a similar pattern in recent battles — the militants inflict as many casualties as they can before they ultimately flee advances by U.S.-backed Iraqi or Syrian opposition forces.