By Stephen Kalin
BAWIZA, Iraq (Reuters) - Islamic State is using wooden replicas of tanks and Humvees in a bid to subvert an air campaign by the U.S.-led military coalition supporting Iraqi forces in the Mosul operations, even using bearded mannequins to simulate jihadist fighters.
The Iraqi army captured a handful of the mockups last week at a training site it retook from the group north of Mosul, Islamic State's last major stronghold in the country, which government forces have almost surrounded but only breached so far from one direction.
When seen close up, the models resemble toys but from a long distance they might be mistaken for real vehicles.
"As our troops advanced toward the areas we were charged with liberating, Daesh used tanks and vehicles made of wood to divert the military planes," Lieutenant Colonel Abbas al-Azaji said on Sunday, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
It is not clear how effective the mockups have been at thwarting aerial bombardment, which has been essential to the Iraqi forces' ground campaign to roll back Islamic State from large swathes of territory it seized in 2014.
Baghdad-based spokesman U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the coalition had been tracking Islamic State's use of such decoy vehicles for a while.
"We call it tactical deception. Daesh has been doing it and that's certainly a tactic that enemies like to use," he said.
"It is actually not as troubling as a lot of the other things we've seen," he said, like setting fire to a sulfur plant and igniting oil wells south of Mosul.
Also found at the training site were two large armored vehicles the militants had used for assaulting enemy positions, and the blown out remains of more than a dozen vehicle-borne explosive devices which Iraqi forces had disabled.
(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Andrew Bolton)