British warplanes have struck two ISIS groups as coalition forces intensify their effort to stop the terrorists regrouping in northern Iraq.
Defence analysts expect there will be an increase in US-led attacks on the extremists in retaliation for suicide bombs that killed 32 civilians in Baghdad on January 21.
The RAF strike was part of “keeping the boot on the terrorists' throat,” defence sources said.
Defence analysts said that ISIS is using the pandemic to try to regroup after it was defeated in Syria and Iraq.
The latest attack came after a coalition surveillance aircraft picked up a number of fighters operating around caves a few miles from Bayji, a city about 200 kilometres north of Iraq’s capital.
Two RAF Typhoon fighter-bombers in the area on an armed reconnaissance patrol on January 24 were immediately called in to locate the fighters in caves just under 3km apart.
Using their advanced surveillance cameras, the jets spotted the fighters, checked the surrounding area for civilians, then each dropped two Paveway IV laser-guided bombs in simultaneous attacks.
“All four of the bombs struck their targets accurately and the strike was assessed to have been a success in eliminating the terrorist threat,” the Ministry of Defence said. It did not give any casualty figures.
The attack was the first time RAF jets bombed ISIS positions since last October, suggesting a potential change in tempo. “ISIS are still operational and they still pose a threat,” the defence source said.
The terrorists were driven out of their last remaining territory in Iraq more than three years ago but analysts believe the attack in Baghdad and other activity suggests they are growing in confidence.
“ISIS have demonstrated a strong resilience narrative and they are able to lose leaders but still continue and survive,” said Rafaello Pantucci, an ISIS expert at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “Worryingly the group feels it's in a position to launch these attacks against civilians in Baghdad and is relatively confident."
"Saying that this group is out is premature, and has always been premature, as the Baghdad attack was ambitious and successful and made a big statement,” Mr Pantucci said.
He added that the strong retaliation by the US and its allies against ISIS demonstrates their concern about parts of Iraq falling to the group.
“That worry stems from ISIS’s history where the West lost interest in Iraq around 2008 and that led to increasingly ambitious attacks in downtown Baghdad, preceded by ISIS growing into a serious and dangerous organisation,” he said.
American resilience in the region, which has been reinforced with the election of President Joe Biden, was further demonstrated by the targeting of ISIS leader Jabbar Salman Ali Farhan al-Issawi, also known as Abu Yasser. He was among 10 terrorists killed on Wednesday in a mountain cave near the northern city of Kirkuk where he was organising operations in Iraq.
The coalition against ISIS has completed 82 operations against the extremist group and prevented 63 acts of terrorism this year.