US-trained Iraqi forces mount attack against Islamic State in Ramadi
Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the Islamic State in the
Iraqi city of Ramadi, defense officials said on Thursday, in a key test of the
Obama administration’s strategy for defeating the militant group.
About 3,000 Iraqi
soldiers have taken positions around Ramadi in the past few days, the first
time that troops trained by American advisers over the past year have been
deployed for an offensive against the Islamist State.
Col Steve Warren, a
Pentagon spokesman, said the deployment of the two Iraqi brigades around
Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was significant because they were well
trained and better equipped than many other Iraqi army units. He said those
brigades advanced about four miles on Wednesday. “We’ve already seen progress,”
he told reporters in Baghdad.
News of the troop debut
came as Defense Secretary Ashton B Carter, who has openly questioned Iraqi
forces’ will to fight, made his first trip to Baghdad since assuming his post
Carter’s brief, previously
unannounced visit aimed to assess how the Baghdad government is doing in
improving the state security forces and recruiting Iraq’s minority Sunnis,
whose support US officials view as key to defeating the Islamic State, also
known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.
In coming months,
senior American officials will have to decide whether they will send additional
US troops to Iraq or deploy Americans closer to the front lines to ensure Iraqi
forces can accelerate their fitful progress against the militants.
“To defeat Daesh, we
need capable ground forces that we can enable and support, and we will. And
getting those forces, in turn, requires inclusive governance,” Carter said at
the close of a meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Carter also held talks
with other officials from Iraq’s Shiite-led government, including Defense
Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, and leaders from the Sunni minority.
US military officials
say more than 5,000 Iraqi soldiers, federal police officers and
counterterrorism troops are working to isolate Ramadi, whose fall to the
Islamic State in May dealt a major blow to the US-backed campaign against the
Warren said this week
that those forces aimed to “place a noose around the city and isolate it” from
militants elsewhere. He said the offensive to retake Ramadi could begin as soon
as “several weeks” from now. The Islamic State is estimated to have 1,000 to
2,000 fighters in the city.
In a visit to the Iraqi
Counterterrorism Service Academy, Carter was briefed on U.S. efforts to train
and advise Iraqi special forces. He watched a team of elite soldiers — in
all-black uniforms and some with black masks — conduct shooting drills.
The unit is regarded as
the most skilled of Iraq’s security forces, and the government has relied on it
heavily in operations against the Islamic State over the past 18 months.
commander, Maj. Gen. Falah al-Mohamedawi, thanked Carter for U.S. support in
developing Iraqi counterterrorism capabilities.
“God willing, together
we will defeat Daesh,” Mohamedawi told Carter.
“Yes, we will,” the US
defense chief replied.