U.N.: 10,000 families trapped in Fallujah as Islamic State, Iraqi forces battle

UN-10000-families-trapped-in-Fallujah-as-Islamic-State-Iraqi-forces-battle.   FALLUJAH, Iraq,  The United Nations estimates about 10,000 families are trapped inside Fallujah as Iraqi forces continue to fight the Islamic State for control of the city.

An Iraqi soldier, assigned to the 4th Battalion of the 23rd Iraqi Army Brigade, calls his squad to a halt during a simulated patrol for a skills evaluation at Camp Taji, Iraq, on March 28. Iraqi soldiers took part in this training to enhance their proficiency and maintenance skills on heavy weapons. The army, as part of a coalition, began an offensive to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State on Monday and the United Nations warns thousands of families are in danger. File Photo by Sgt. Paul Sale/U.S. Army | License Photo

About 80 families have fled Fallujah in recent days but thousands remain endangered as the Islamic State has worked to prevent civilians from leaving the city. The United Nations said the estimated 10,000 families trapped in Fallujah are “in a very precarious situation.”

The Islamic State has reportedly killed civilians as they attempted to flee the city. The U.N. refugee agency has set up camps near Fallujah to accommodate escaping families. Fleeing families told USA Today that the Islamic State has used civilian hostages as human shields.

The city, once populated by about 300,000 people, is now home to about 100,000 after years of war. The United Nations warns that residents face starvation due to food shortages and high prices.

The Iraqi security forces’ offensive to retake Fallujah, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, began on Monday. The offensive is joined by Iraqi counter-terrorism forces, Iraqi police, tribal fighters and the Popular Mobilization Forces Shiite militia group. Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control since early 2014.

Fallujah is the second-most populated urban territory under Islamic State control — the first being the city of Mosul. Iraqi security forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul from IS control in March. Mosul is considered one of the most important battles in the fight against the Islamic State.

By Andrew V. Pestano