Elite special forces are terrifying ISIS soldiers in Iraq by wearing skull masks as they fight to take back Mosul.
The Golden Division is a US-trained group of special forces soldiers fighting on the front line as the operation to take back the ISIS controlled city continues.
According to the Sun, they took back six districts in Mosul, ISIS’s largest stronghold, on Saturday morning, breaking through the militant defence lines and fighting them in the streets.
The elite fighters are part of Iraq’s 1st Commando Battalion and have the same training as a US Army Ranger.
Commanders of the brigade have boasted that each of the soldiers is worth 1,000 ISIS terrorists.
The group is said to have two million followers on Facebook and have become local heroes.
It is not the first time the skull masks have been used by American soldiers, as one was pictured in Kuwait using one to shield himself from the sandstorms in 2003.
Iraqi special forces threw themselves back into battle Saturday after a first foray into Mosul was blunted by stiffer than expected resistance from jihadists defending the birthplace of their ‘caliphate’.
While the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) fought the Islamic State group in the streets of Mosul, the army and federal police attacked one of the last sizeable towns on the more distant southern front.
The mass exodus feared by aid groups of some of the million-plus civilians still trapped in Mosul has yet to materialise, but the number of people displaced by the battle has grown sharply in recent days.
‘Our forces are now engaged in fierce fighting inside the neighbourhoods of east Mosul,’ CTS spokesman Sabah al-Noman said, adding that the ‘fighting is house to house’.
In Bartalla, a town to the east that Iraqi forces have used as a base since retaking it in the early days of the nearly three-week-old offensive, ambulances returning from the front with wounded CTS fighters rushed by on a regular basis.
CTS forces made their first real push into the streets of Mosul on Friday but were met by a deluge of bombs and gunfire, and eventually forced into a partial pullback after a few hours.
‘We weren’t expecting such resistance. They had blocked all the roads,’ said one officer. ‘There are large numbers of jihadists… It was preferable to pull back and devise a new plan.’
The hitch in the CTS advance appeared to contradict reports that IS had moved its resources away from the east of Mosul to the west bank of the River Tigris.
Last night, an Irish jihadi nicknamed Terry Taliban by those in his hometown in Dublin, killed himself in Mosul in a suicide attack as the forces make steps to reclaim the ISIS stronghold.
Fighting continued in the morning, with both sides firing mortars and automatic weapons on each other’s positions, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery.
Clashes were most intense in the al-Bakr neighborhood. Sniper duels played out from rooftops in the mostly residential areas, where the majority of buildings are two stories high.
Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces said: ‘Daesh [ISIS] is in the city center and we must be very careful as our forces advance.’
With more densely packed neighborhoods ahead, his forces will be challenged to avoid both higher military and civilian casualties.
The special forces launched a two-pronged assault deeper into Mosul’s urban centre on Friday, unleashing the most intense street battles against IS militants since the offensive to retake the city began nearly three weeks ago. At least seven special forces troops have been killed in the fighting.
More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the assault under heavy U.S.-led coalition air support, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fighting in more rural areas with few civilians to the tight, narrow streets of Mosul proper.
At least seven suicide attackers in explosives-laden vehicles attacked troops on Friday, five of whom were killed before nearing their targets.
Thousands of Iraqis have fled Mosul and are living in a refugee camp in Khazer.
Aid workers have warned of a major humanitarian crisis when fighting begins in earnest for Mosul, which is home to more than a million people, but thousands have already been fleeing surrounding areas.