01:45 - Source: CNN
Iraqi forces make gains in Falluja battle

Story highlights

Airstrikes target ISIS tactical units in southern Falluja, Iraq says

Militants were meeting at time of bombings, spokesman says

CNN  — 

Coalition warplanes bombed ISIS command centers and tunnel networks Friday in Falluja, Iraq, killing dozens of militants, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command said, as the fight intensifies to retake the strategic city.

Col. Mohammed Ibrahim, a Iraqi command spokesman, told CNN that militants had been meeting in southern Falluja at the time of the airstrikes, including a newly appointed ISIS military leader known as the “Emir of the Falluja State.”

Ibrahim said it was unclear if the ISIS leader was among those killed.

“Bodies from the airstrikes are still under the rubble while ISIS militants try to recover them by using cranes,” said a statement from the Iraqi Joint Operation Command.

The airstrikes targeted the militant group’s tactical units, intelligence sources said.

They assert Iraqi army forces have encircled Falluja and are expected to storm this city west of Baghdad soon.

The fight for Falluja: Why it matters

Falluja became the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIS in January 2014 – dealing a blow to Iraq as well as Western countries battling the terror group.

An estimated 50,000 residents are trapped in the city between opposing fighters, including 20,000 children, according to the United Nations.

Men and boys who refuse to fight for ISIS are being killed, and civilians have died in heavy shelling, the United Nations says.

Aid groups say ISIS is using thousands of civilians as human shields.

Hundreds, mostly women and children, have fled the city. Those who escaped say Falluja lacks food, clean water and medical supplies.

A mix of Iraqi army, police, anti-terrorism units, Sunni tribal militias and what are known as the Popular Mobilization Units – Shia-dominated militias trained by Iran – are participating in the offensive.