WASHINGTON — The U.S. is supplying armored tractors and bulldozers to Kurdish militants to mitigate the IED threat as they fight to liberate Raqqa, Syria, ISIS’ de facto capital, according to officials at Operation Inherent Resolve.
U.S. backed Kurdish fighters just completed the second month of their campaign to drive ISIS out of the beleaguered city. After early rapid advances, the intensity of the conflict has picked up as the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces push closer to the city center.
Improvised explosive devices have been exceptionally pervasive in Raqqa. Approximately 80 percent of the attacks carried out by ISIS fighters holed up in the city have been by IED, according to Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
There’s “been tough fighting in tight quarters with a lot of these IEDs,” Dillon said.
The armored bulldozers and tractors are expected to help counter that threat.
During the battle for Mosul, armored dozers played a significant role in countering IEDs and assisting fighters as they moved block to block in dense urban fighting, according to the Washington Post.
They’ve also been a significant part of the Israeli government’s strategy in urban conflict in places like Gaza.
During Operation Cast Lead — the three-week incursion of Israel forces into the Gaza Strip back in December 2008 — Israeli forces relied heavily on an unmanned armored dozer called the D9 to clear mines, rubble, and to pave routes for forces, according to a report from the Jerusalem Post.
Bulldozers have also become a prime target for insurgents looking to halt advancing opposition forces.
Nevertheless, the IED threat in Raqqa is high and the coalition is providing other assistance to Kurdish fighters to counter the menace.
Dillon wouldn’t provide details of what that other support is, but said,” anything we can do to help identify where these IEDs, or these vehicle-borne IEDs, are [and] these factories where they are built, and striking them prior to the ability of ISIS to use them, we will do these things.”
“As far as detection of these IEDs, there are capabilities we are using in Raqqa for that purpose,” he added.
Kurdish fighters on the ground have also been adapting to the IED challenge by modifying U.S. Humvees provided to them by the coalition.
Kurdish fighters currently control roughly 45 percent of Raqqa, according to Dillon.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.