The Islamic State claims to have launched at least 12 suicide bombings during the first day of the battle for Mosul, Iraq. The group’s Amaq News Agency posted the claims in English and Arabic on its social media sites, including Telegram. All of the suicide attacks were purportedly carried out south and east of Mosul, with eight targeting the Kurdish Peshmerga and the remaining four striking Iraqi forces.
However, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) says that all 12 suicide bombers were neutralized, eight by the Iraqi Army and four by the Peshmerga. “All our forces are able to counter SVBIEDs,” or suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, a tweet on the PMU’s official English Twitter feed reads. One photo posted by the PMU appears to show the remains of a VBIED that has been destroyed.
A second PMU tweet says that an Islamic State suicide bomber, who was “dressed in Federal Police clothes in #Mosul…was shot before he” could blow himself up. And third tweet includes images of two pages, which are purportedly all that remains of an Egyptian suicide bomber who tried to attack the Iraqi Army as it advanced towards Mosul.
The Associated Press described the situation to Mosul’s east, which is one of the key approaches for the battle. The “main roads and fields were littered with homemade bombs” and “suicide car bomb attacks had slowed the troops’ progress” according to the AP, which cited Lt. Col. Mohammad Darwish of the peshmerga.
The fog of war makes it impossible to verify the efficacy of the Islamic State’s suicide attacks.
The Islamic State has used suicide bombers in both its offensives and as a defensive tactic when losing ground.
For example, Amaq claims that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men launched 29 suicide attacks in Libya during the first nine months of 2016. Twenty-six of these were allegedly carried out in the city of Sirte between May and August. In the months immediately preceding May, when the group had uncontested control of the city, Amaq did not report any such “martyrdom operations” in and around Sirte.
The Islamic State was forced to deploy a large number of its “martyrs” in Sirte after Libyan fighters, backed by US special forces and airstrikes, began an offensive to retake the so-called caliphate’s North African safe haven. The bombings likely slowed the advances made by the “Solid Structure” operations room, which coordinates the Libya militiamen opposed to the caliphate’s project in Sirte.
The Islamic State employed similar tactics in Anbar province, where it has suffered significant setbacks. According to data published by Amaq, 174 of the organization’s 463 suicide attacks in Iraq from January through September of this year have occurred in Anbar province.
A similar situation is likely playing out in Mosul, where the Islamic State is attempting to stymie the offensive by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition.
During the first nine months of the year, Amaq claimed a total of 782 suicide bombings in Iraq, Syria and Libya, for an average of 87 per month. If the Islamic State’s statistics are accurate, then the group is executing “martyrdom operations” at a historically high rate. In 2015, according to data compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), all terrorist groups around the world averaged 61 suicide bombings per month.
As The Long War Journal has previously reported, Amaq’s claims regarding the number of suicide attacks should not be accepted at face value. The figures have not been independently verified. It is possible that some attacks are counted even if they failed, and this may be the case in Mosul during the first days of heavy fighting. The Islamic State has also used children or adolescents in its bombings, meaning that some of the attackers are not truly willing “martyrs.”
Still, in general, suicide attacks are one of the jihadis’ most effective tactics. The State Department has noted that, “[o]n average, suicide attacks in 2015 were 4.6 times as lethal as non-suicide attacks.” This means that the “martyrs” become even more integral as the Islamic State loses ground.
For more on the Islamic State’s claimed suicide operations, see LWJ reports: Number of suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State dipped in September, The Islamic State’s prolific ‘martyrdom’ machine, Islamic State claims nearly 600 suicide attacks in first six months of 2016 and Islamic State claims more than 700 suicide attacks since beginning of the year.
Amaq News Agency’s claims regarding “martyrdom” bombings south and east of Mosul during the first hours of the battle: