The Iraqi army is intensifying its efforts to locate and destroy secret networks of tunnels dug by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in western Anbar.
Security forces have managed to locate and destroy a large number of tunnels, but according to one local official, there are many more in the province's western desert that have not yet been discovered.
The efforts come as joint Iraqi forces ramp up security measures to prevent ISIS infiltration attempts via the country's western border with Syria.
While ISIS was in control of western Anbar, its elements dug many secret tunnels in desert areas close to cities, villages and main roads, al-Rutba governor Emad Mashaal al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.
"It was apparently part of the group's future plans, for after the fighting is over," he said, adding that the tunnels were built "to provide safe hideouts to allow the elements to regroup and launch surprise attacks on nearby targets".
Iraqi forces discovered many such hideouts during the liberation operations and destroyed some of them by aerial bombardment, based on intelligence information, al-Dulaimi said.
Search for tunnels intensifies
Following the mid-September recapture of the city of Akashat near the border with Syria, the Iraqi army’s 1st Division destroyed an 800-metre tunnel that was big enough for people to stand up straight in, he said.
The tunnel, 25 kilometres outside the city, had been dug in a valley and was disguised in a way that made it hard to discover, al-Dulaimi said.
Less than a month ago, the Iraqi air force destroyed another secret underground hideout in the desert south of al-Rutba that had served as a safe house for storing weapons and preparing suicide attackers, he said.
Army forces are now intensifying their search for secret tunnels, with strong co-operation from local residents, al-Dulaimi said.
"Our information confirms there are many tunnels and hideouts still hidden," he said. "We hope the security forces discover and attack them quickly."
Meanwhile, he said, pro-active security efforts have greatly strengthened stability in al-Rutba.
"We have not recorded any terrorist attack for several months, only some small operations, and even those have become inexistent recently," he said.
"The situation in our city in general is improving."