ARLINGTON, Va. — ISIS fighters who remain in Raqqa have been pumped up with injections of speed to keep up their energy level despite a lack of food under siege, a U.S. defense official said today.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters via video from Baghdad that the Syrian Democratic Forces — the male and female multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian force that launched the long drive toward ISIS’ proclaimed capital in November — keep advancing with control of about 55 percent of the city “despite the scores of improvised explosive devices emplaced by ISIS and the density of the high-rise buildings in the areas they are fighting in now.”
“They have had time to prepare for the end, and their plan is to make those fighting them to bleed for every inch of Raqqa,” he said. “ISIS has had time to rig up thousands of fiendishly clever explosives and to dig extensive tunnels throughout the city. They are using these tunnels and improvised explosive devices to attack advancing SDF fighters, as well as noncombatants trying to flee their homes.”
Dillon said over the past 48 hours ISIS tried to use these tunnels to launch a counter-attack, but the SDF repelled that.
The SDF has captured a “few” ISIS alive and even fewer have surrendered. “They are malnourished, emaciated and, many of them, pocked with needle tracks from what is assessed as amphetamines they used to maintain their murderous fervor,” Dillon said.
Many of ISIS’ fighters are based out of the city’s fortified main hospital, using women and children as shields and the tunnel network below to move around.
Two hundred more women fighters graduated from SDF training this week and will be integrated into Raqqa operations. As Mosul calms down post-ISIS-ouster, more coalition resources have been shifted toward air support for the SDF.
There are estimated to be fewer than 2,500 ISIS terrorists remaining in the Raqqa stronghold. The SDF consists of more than 50,000 fighters.
Dillon said they don’t know how extensive the ISIS tunnel network beneath the city is, and “you learn a little bit more every single day.”
“Clearly, the ISR, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, that we use gives us a very good idea of what we can see above ground. But, under, we learn that as we go,” he added.
“…As the central services, as water turns off, as the ability for food to, you know, come in and out of these cities — it makes it very, very difficult to sustain oneself. And this is a relatively new report of some of these fighters that we’ve seen recently, to show how emaciated and how malnourished that they are, and the fact that they are using some sort of drugs to keep them alert and to keep them going is some telling signs of their desperation in the — where they are right now within Raqqa.”
Dillon said the drug use was assessed to be amphetamines and not another substance, and it was the first time he’d seen such reports that the terrorists were utilizing “some kind of intravenous way to keep yourself above water.”
He didn’t have an estimated on the number of captured ISIS fighters, who are being processed and detained by the SDF.