The Iraqi air force is playing a decisive role in the battle to liberate Fallujah from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) by providing crucial support to ground troops, officials say.
Since May 22nd, Iraqi forces have been engaged in a large scale military offensive to drive ISIL out of Fallujah, one of the group's last major strongholds in Iraq.
"The Iraqi army's aircraft has been engaged in the fight against ISIL long before the start of the Fallujah liberation operation," said Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin.
But with the start of the 'Breaking Terrorism' operation to retake Fallujah, he added, "we stepped up our strikes and they now run 24 hours a day".
"Any movement by terrorist elements is now targeted directly and we do not allow them the opportunity to catch a breath, regroup and take position to attack our forces," he told Mawtani.
"We have hit vital enemy targets inside and around Fallujah," he said, "including car-bomb and improvised explosive devices (IED) workshops, weapons and equipment caches, control centres, and suicide bombers' gathering bases, known as 'guesthouses'."
Airstrikes hit vital ISIL targets
The strikes have inflicted painful blows on ISIL, leaving hundreds of its elements dead and destroying its combat capabilities, Amin added.
Targets included a chemical weapons workshop in al-Sajar, a car-bomb workshop in al-Hay al-Sinaei, and weapons and rockets caches in al-Julan neighbourhood, according to a statement by the joint operations command.
Airstrikes also targeted a communications system and a car bomb hiding site at the Fallujah electricity maintenance department, as well as a bomb wires and detonators cache near al-Sheiba bridge.
Another airstrike destroyed an ISIL command centre, killing 10 of the group's elements, the statement said, adding that prisoners who were held captive by ISIL in a secret underground jail adjacent to the site were able to escape.
"Our attacks have caused confusion in the terrorists' ranks and thrown them off balance," Amin said.
"When Fallujah is fully liberated and the battle is over, the media will be able to see that raids have been concentrated on carefully selected targets and sites," he said.
The strikes are carried out with caution to avoid civilian deaths and damage to the infrastructure, he added.
"We asked residents before the start of the military operation, through air dropped leaflets, to stay away from ISIL bases for fear for their safety and to facilitate the task of hunting down the terrorists," Amin said.
Around 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in Fallujah.
The air force will continue to provide support to the ground units "until victory is achieved and ISIL's presence is terminated in Iraq", he said.
Turning the battle in Iraq's favour
The Iraqi air force's support has been decisive in turning the battle in Iraq's favour, Anbar provincial council member Adhal al-Fahdawi told Mawtani.
"Iraqi warplanes have pounded the terrorists' strongholds and defence lines, thus allowing the ground forces the possibility to raid, deploy and quickly overtake and hold territory," he said.
"The airstrikes have given fighters a major push and greatly weakened the enemy's resistance, which in recent days has lost many areas it had controlled around Fallujah, most notably al-Karma, Albu Shajal, Albu Ali, Albu Obaid, Albu Asi, Albu Shihab, Albu Hawa and Albu Bali," he said.
Security forces are achieving quality victories and advancing steadily, he said. "Very soon all cities in our province will be freed of the terrorists' control."
The airstrikes have helped wear down ISIL's capabilities and step up the pace of victories, Fallujah mayor Issa Sayer al-Issawi told Mawtani.
"Today, thanks to that air support, our forces are slowly nearing a full liberation of Fallujah after managing in recent days to defeat ISIL on the city's outskirts," he said.
East Fallujah areas such as al-Karma and al-Sajar, up to al-Tufaha bridge, the cement factory, the food and wheels stores and al-Nuaimiya neighbourhood to the south of the city, are all currently secure, he said.
Iraqi forces are currently advancing from al-Saqlawiya to the west, while military operations are ongoing to clear the area of al-Hasa in the south-west, he added.
"The terrorist gangs are living their last days in Fallujah," al-Issawi said.