Members of Preemptive Love Coalition aid mission hid from ISIS, were held at gunpoint by local military officials, and nearly killed in a Coalition airstrike while trying to deliver food to displaced families
Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Iraq (6/29/16) – Overnight, three Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC) aid workers were caught in a major ISIS attack targeting the southern Fallujah corridor. Moments later, several more aid workers were nearly killed by an errant Coalition airstrike near Amiriyat al-Fallujah.
Early yesterday, a PLC aid convoy was making its way to the Khaldiya displacement camp, 20 miles west of Fallujah, when its two aid trucks, carrying 100,000 pounds of food, became stuck in a huge rut on a military road. After several unsuccessful attempts to free the trucks in 110-degree heat, the aid team decided to split into two groups. Ultimately, one returned to a security checkpoint near Amiriyat al-Fallujah, while the other chose to remain with the trucks, believing the situation to be uncomfortable but not unsafe—and still intent on completing the aid delivery to displaced families.
Early this morning, ISIS launched a significant attack on the area, in retaliation for recent losses in Fallujah city. The assault included 450 armed vehicles, according to an alert from the Anbar Police Directorate [note: graphic content]. Approximately 80 of these vehicles were seen by PLC staff, who remained with the aid trucks. The aid workers dug themselves into the dirt to avoid detection and capture, while Coalition airstrikes targeted the militants’ convoy.
Meanwhile, Iraqi military officials refused to allow the first group of aid workers to pass through a security checkpoint near Amiriyat al-Fallujah—or even take shelter during the conflict.
Shortly after dawn, PLC aid workers were mistakenly targeted in successive airstrikes—the first exploding within five meters of their car. A member of PLC’s team identified a low-flying fighter jet as a Coalition aircraft. US CENTCOM acknowledged conducting airstrikes on ISIS convoys in the vicinity but stopped short of acknowledging strikes at the exact coordinates provided by the aid organization. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials continued refusing to shelter the humanitarian relief team.
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"We could hear the missiles coming on top of our heads," said one of PLC’s staff. "After the first airstrike, we started running, trying to reach the checkpoint. But the soldiers aimed their guns at us and told us to stay back. Then the second airstrike happened, very close to us."
PLC made urgent appeals to journalists in the region, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and military officials at CENTCOM, informing them of the team’s most recent known coordinates. Efforts were also made throughout the night to ensure the rescue of both groups. After many hours, an influential tribal leader facilitated the safe passage of the first group through the security checkpoint, then retrieved aid workers stationed with the trucks hours later. As of this morning, all PLC staff working in the Fallujah area are safe.
The ISIS assault, however, has led to the complete closure of all aid locations, preventing humanitarian organizations from delivering essential food, water, and other supplies to 86,000 displaced Fallujans.
"This was the most difficult, nightmarish thing our team has experienced in eight uninterrupted years of work across Iraq, but ISIS and airstrikes will not stop us from helping the people of Fallujah," said Jeremy Courtney, founder and CEO of PLC. "Because of the area-wide closure, we were forced to turn our trucks around today, but we are not done."
To arrange an interview with Jeremy Courtney in Iraq, contact Ben Irwin at ben-dot-irwn-at-preemptivelove-dot-org or +1 616 856 2605. To provide aid for displaced families from Fallujah, click here.
About Preemptive Love Coalition
Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC) is the largest provider of emergency food to families who fled Fallujah. For nearly a decade, PLC has provided medical care for children in conflict zones, aid for those persecuted by extremists, and helped create small businesses to help displaced families put their lives back together.