The Cable

Ramadi Has Fallen to the Islamic State, but Pentagon Says Things Are Just Fine

Islamic State fighters are pushing deeper into the key Iraqi city of Ramadi while launching new attacks against the sprawling Baiji oil refinery, but a top U.S. military official involved in the Pentagon’s training and advising mission there says that the group remains “on the defensive.” Speaking by phone from his headquarters in the Middle ...

Iraqi security forces and gunmen rest on a sidewalk following clashes with jihadists on September 19, 2014, in Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. On September 17, a suicide car bomb destroyed a key bridge in Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad where the support of Sunni tribes is seen as vital to any nationwide fightback against the jihadists. AFP PHOTO/AZHAR SHALLAL        (Photo credit should read AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi security forces and gunmen rest on a sidewalk following clashes with jihadists on September 19, 2014, in Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. On September 17, a suicide car bomb destroyed a key bridge in Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad where the support of Sunni tribes is seen as vital to any nationwide fightback against the jihadists. AFP PHOTO/AZHAR SHALLAL (Photo credit should read AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Islamic State fighters are pushing deeper into the key Iraqi city of Ramadi while launching new attacks against the sprawling Baiji oil refinery, but a top U.S. military official involved in the Pentagon’s training and advising mission there says that the group remains “on the defensive.”

Speaking by phone from his headquarters in the Middle East, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley made the comments just hours after ISIS militants pushed further into Ramadi, capturing key government buildings in areas that had been contested for weeks.

The renewed fighting, Weidley said, was simply a case of the group “attempting to hold previous gains while conducting small-scale localized harassing attacks, and occasional complex attacks, in order to feed their information and propaganda apparatus.”

The potential Islamic State conquest of Ramadi — along with the continuing back-and-forth fight for the Baiji refinery, Iraq’s largest such facility — raise questions about the effectiveness not only of the Iraqi army, but also of the U.S.-led effort to batter the group from the air while training Iraqi troops and tribal fighters to battle the group on the ground. The nine-month-old coalition air campaign has so far cost the U.S. more than $2 billion.

But Weidley, the number two officer leading Operation Inherent Resolve, said that although government forces have lost parts of the city in the east and to the south, any such gains are only “temporary.”

The assault began on Thursday night when Islamic State fighters used bulldozers and at least ten suicide attacks to break through Iraqi government positions. Reports have also emerged that the Iraqi Army is rushing reinforcements to the city, where the Islamic State’s black flag is said to be flying above the provincial government building, but some officials there say it may be too late.

“The city’s fallen,” Maj. Omar Khamis al-Dahl, a senior officer in the Ramadi police, told the Washington Post. “They’ve taken it.”

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted 165 airstrikes in Ramadi over the past month, but have been unable to drive the Islamic State forces out of portions of the city and its surrounding areas.

Still, Weidley insisted that the strikes are forcing the militants to change how they fight, potentially making them more vulnerable, with the group no longer parading in large formations or moving as large units. “Their ability to maneuver is very limited at this point,” he said.

He also noted that Iraqi security forces had “liberated Tikrit” from the Islamic State earlier this spring, but admitted that the town remains mostly deserted due to the roadside bombs that the fighters spread around the city and the fact that essential services like electricity and water have still not been restored.

 

Photo Credit: AZHAR SHALLAL/Getty Images

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