A stampede of jihadists fleeing from Fallujah accelerated Thursday as American and Iraqi gunships ramped up their air attacks on the Islamic State.
As many as 2,000 Islamic State terrorists and up to 700 vehicles have been caught under heavy helicopter fire after breaking out of a trap in the Hassi area south of Fallujah, according to front-line Iraqi military officials.
At least 250 suspected fighters were killed and at least 40 vehicles destroyed in the engagement, U.S. officials told Reuters. The helicopter attacks would be the most devastating to date against the terror group, if Iraqi army claims are accurate.
Iraqi troops had encircled the terrorists south of Fallujah, according to a statement from Anbar operations commander Gen. Ismail Al-Mahalawi, but the Islamic State fighters refused to surrender and made a desperate bid to break out early Wednesday morning.
Al-Mahalawi announced that Iraqi and coalition warplanes destroyed another 60 vehicles Thursday when they tried to flee from Jazeera Khalidiya, 20 miles west of Fallujah.
After Wednesday's deadly attack on hundreds of jihadists in the desert southwest of Fallujah, there are signs of a general panic among the terrorists in Anbar province, according to Ali Sada, editor of Daesh Daily.
The chairman of the Khalidiya district council said Thursday that Iraqi forces ambushed and captured more than 200 terrorists for the Islamic State - also known as ISIS or Daesh - who were trying to flee from the Jaraishi area toward Thirthar, the news site Maalomah reported.
U.S. coalition aircraft joined in the attacks on the convoy, NBC reported.
"We started to chase ISIS convoys on Tuesday. On the same day, the U.S.-led coalition destroyed those convoys alongside Iraqi F-16s," according to a U.S. Embassy tweet.
Fighters used a wheeled construction shovel to open the road for hundreds of ISIS fighters attempting to escape the Al-Hassi area five miles from the Euphrates River by speeding west into the Anbar desert, Mahalawi told the Iraqi news site al-Sumaria. Iraqi Army Air Force and Iraqi forces in trucks and tanks attacked them, destroying the vehicles, and killing a large number of fighters, the general said. According to several social media sources, surviving Islamic State fighters are still fleeing into the desert and attempting to regroup.
A week ago, virtually the whole population of Fallujah flooded out of the city after Islamic State fighters lifted road blocks and encouraged starving residents to flee. Among the melee of civilians leaving the city were as many as 2,000 terrorists, who mingled with the tens of thousands of displaced persons who drove or walked to the town of Amiriyah Fallujah, a medium-sized city 20 miles South of Fallujah on the Euphrates River.
The escaping terrorists were trapped by Iraqi Army roadblocks in the area of Hassi. There, they waited a day since there were not enough coalition forces in the area to engage them. Early Wednesday morning, they decided to break out of the trap.
A video posted by the Iraqi defense ministry and several videos posted by tribal fighters shows dozens of Islamic State vehicles burned out and with charred corpses still inside as tribal militia from Anbar fire their weapons and walk through the carnage.
On Wednesday, Jaafer Al-Husseini, the spokesman for a Shia militia called Kata'eb Hezbollah, said Iraqi forces supported by army helicopters destroyed more than 100 Islamic State vehicles, killing more than 60 terrorists. “Tens of Daesh terrorists have fled to desert areas and are trying to regroup,” Husseini told the Al-Mada newspaper while the strafing was still underway.
A terrorist convoy of more than 700 vehicles began moving out of Hassi at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday and was attacked by Iraqi helicopter gunships, destroying more than 130 vehicles, and killing "tens" of Daesh terrorists, Iraqi Army aviation commander, Gen. Hamed Al-Maliki, said Wednesday in a Ministry of Defense video. Most of the retreating Islamic State members were foreign fighters who refused to surrender to Iraqi forces.
More than 20 Iraqi gunships pursed the retreating terrorists, who were later attacked by tribal militia fighting with the Iraqi Army, Al-Maliki said. An Iraqi pilot said in the same video that Iraqi forces had not hurt any women or children in the attack.
As Iraqi helicopter gunships rained bombs and heavy machine-gun fire on the vehicle stampede, some drivers and their trucks scattered into the desert sands, but many were killed in the strikes, leaving charred corpses strewn around the hulks of cargo trucks, light trucks and passenger cars.