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LONDON: British and coalition forces engaged in the biggest air raids against Daesh in over two years during spring, in a 10-day campaign that targeted fighters in over 100 Iraqi cave hideouts.

The UK, the US and other coalition nations have been engaged in a long-running battle to eliminate the estimated 10,000 remaining Daesh fighters still operating in Iraq and Syria since the group lost the remainder of its territory in 2019.

Air Commodore Simon Strasdin, who leads the UK air attacks, said he “could not give an exact timeline” for when the long-running war would end, but insisted it would be “winnable through the Iraqis being able to stabilize their country.”

The exact number of casualties from the spring bombings is unclear, as Iraqi troops have not yet moved in to clear the cave complexes.

However, Strasdin said: “We went after, as a coalition, a number of these targets every night for circa 10 days.” The attacks amounted “to between 50 and 100 of the targets and complexes.”

Mountainous areas — such as Iraq’s remote Makhmur mountain area, where these attacks took place — are often used by terrorist groups as bases that are difficult to reach by security forces or troops.

The attacks on the cave complexes are understood to have taken months of planning, as coalition forces had to painstakingly locate the hideouts. “This was many, many months of building understanding and intelligence,” Strasdin said.

While British attacks on Daesh ground to a halt in 2019, these bombings signal that the UK’s fight with the group is not yet over, and may indicate a broader military re-engagement.

Chris Coles, founder of Drone Wars UK — which tracks air and drone strikes by British forces — said the bombardment in northern Iraq was “perhaps the first indication” of a campaigning strategy outlined by London in last month’s integrated review of defense and foreign policy.

That review, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson called “the biggest program of investment in defense since the end of the Cold War,” committed Britain to fighting terrorism across the board, as well as maintaining “thriving relationships in the Middle East and the Gulf.”

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