Special To The Washington Post
IRBIL, Iraq – As they battle to hold on to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Islamic State militants have added a new weapon to their arsenal: tanks made of wood.
The life-size replicas are intended to confuse air support from the U.S.-led coalition backing the Iraqi ground offensive for the city, commanders said. Although they may look far from realistic when viewed from close quarters, it’s harder to tell what they are made of from the sky.
Iraqi forces discovered a building used to manufacture the decoys when they retook the village of Sada, north of Mosul, last week. In addition to three fake tanks, they found five wooden Humvees.
There were even mannequins designed to look like fighters operating machine guns and plastic weapons.
Maj. Gen. Sabah al-Azzawi, commander of the 16th Division of the Iraqi army, said his forces were “stunned” to make the discovery. “I expect there will be more inside the city,” he said.
It’s the latest in a range of elaborate tactics the militants are using as they try to cling to the city, their last major urban stronghold in Iraq. They have dug extensive tunnel networks to avoid airstrikes, planted roadside bombs and sent hundreds of car bombs toward advancing forces.
Although the Iraqi military has come across most of those methods before as they have slowly taken back territory from the militants, it is the first time they have seen the decoys.
Safaa al-Assam, an Iraqi military analyst, said the effort shows that the Islamic State is planning for a long-term battle and will not give up on Mosul easily.
The replicas “are made to distract warplanes from the real targets, as well burdening the Iraqi air force and the international coalition,” Assam said.
Islamic State militants seized huge caches of weapons from the Iraqi army when they took over Mosul 2 1/2 years ago. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said that the military lost 2,300 Humvees alone.
With so many, the militants have used the armored vehicles for suicide bombings because they are harder for ground forces to stop with small-arms fire.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s joint operations command, said the use of decoys was a sign that the group had lost resources and was “in a state of collapse.”
“That they resort to these desperate tactics means that this is the beginning of their end,” Rasool said.
He said the method has “failed” and that no ammunition has been used to strike the wooden decoys. It is unclear whether the military would be able to know if decoys had been hit.
Special To The Washington Post · Mustafa Salim