Islamic State storms Camp Speicher, routs Iraqi forces


Note: the Iraqi military later denied that the Islamic State controls all of Camp Speicher, but did say the airbase was overrun, several helicopters were destroyed, and the airfield had to be retaken by Iraqi troops See Threat Matrix report, Iraqi military says it retakes control of key base in Tikrit.


Two days after repelling an Iraqi military attempt to retake the city of Tikrit, the Islamic State and its allies are said to have overrun Camp Speicher, a large base just outside the city that was being used in the failed effort to retake the provincial capital.

The Islamic State's Salahaddin Division claimed in an official statement released on Twitter yesterday that it overran Camp Speicher and is in "control of the airport and the base completely." In the statement, the Islamic State claimed it killed "scores" of Iraqi military personnel, including a brigadier general and a colonel. It also said that a number of pilots were killed in a "martyrdom" or suicide operation on the base before it was overrun.

The Islamic State also said it destroyed seven aircraft on the tarmac and its "detachments of air defense" shot down two additional aircraft, all of which are thought to be helicopters. The Iraqi military had been using helicopters to ferry troops and supplies to Camp Speicher and Tikrit University, where special forces troops attempted to gain a foothold in the northern part of the city.

Additionally, the Islamic State said it destroyed several armored and other vehicles, while the base's fuel supply was set ablaze.

The Islamic State's claims were echoed by McClatchy, who interviewed residents of Tikrit as well as a Kurdish military officer. One Tikrit resident said that more than 700 Iraqi soldiers and 150 "Iranians," who are likely members of the Shia militias that have been augmenting the military, were based at Speicher. Captured members of the military and militia are said to have been paraded in the streets of Tikrit. Many are said to have been executed.

The Iraqi government and the military, which have released only rosy assessments of the fighting on all fronts, have not commented on the situation in Tikrit.

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State's claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.

Iraqi military is in disarray

The latest failed Tikrit offensive and the loss of Camp Speicher highlight the deteriorating condition of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has been forced to cobble together units since at least four of its 15 regular army divisions are no longer viable. The Long War Journal estimates that at least seven divisions have been rendered ineffective since the beginning of the year; see Threat Matrix report, US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military.

In Tikrit, the military is fighting alongside poorly trained militias who are ill-suited to conduct offensive operations. Additionally, SWAT forces, while highly trained and likely more motivated than regular forces, are being misused as infantry.

The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of Ninewa and much of Salahaddin and Diyala provinces after losing them in an offensive launched by the Islamic State and its allies that began on June 10. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is firmly under the control of the Islamic State.

Most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province are also under the Islamic State's control. Fallujah and other cities and towns fell after the Islamic State went on the offensive in Anbar at the beginning of January. The Iraqi military has been unable to retake areas in Anbar lost earlier this year. Half of Ramadi, the provincial capital, is said to be held by the Islamic State. The military recently airlifted 4,000 militiamen to Ramadi, a further indication that the two Iraqi divisions stationed in Anbar, the 1st and the 7th, are no longer cohesive fighting forces.



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READER COMMENTS: "Islamic State storms Camp Speicher, routs Iraqi forces"

Posted by Evan at July 19, 2014 3:08 AM ET:

Not sure what's going to work in this situation...

Short of sustained air support, plus all the logistics and intel that go along with it, by the US, I just don't see the IA doing much.

I wish, for the Iraqis sake , that there were more commandos like the 50 or so that held out at bayji refinery, while the camps guard detachment of 400 fled in fear.

With Iranian boots on the ground, I just don't see my country intervening militarily in a meaningful way, it's just the truth that someone in Washington probably calculated that terrorists killing Iranian quds force members and in turn being killed by them, really is not a bad thing for us or our allies.

Maybe some drone strikes....

Posted by Will Fenwick at July 19, 2014 11:24 AM ET:

It looks like the Islamic State is making a concerted effort to reduce the pockets of territory held by other forces within its area of control. The Deir Izzour pocket has been reduced to a tiny area, Camp Speicher has now fallen. I would expect a large attack on the government held pocket near Tal Afar to be imminent.

Posted by Alex at July 19, 2014 11:50 AM ET:

You know, in all fairness, while I am quick to view Iraqi propaganda and US propaganda (Al-Shorfa, etc.) with a BS filter, I'd also take some of the IS claims with a grain of salt as well. There's definitely a very thick fog of war there.

Posted by Lint at July 19, 2014 9:21 PM ET:

The IA is in absolute disarray and the environment is prime conditions for IS to continue it's advancement on Baghdad. How much blood and treasure did the USA spend on Iraq? If I had lost a child on our misguided war in Iraq, the past two months would be salt in the wound. Shameful.

Posted by BobbyD at July 19, 2014 11:46 PM ET:

Alex,

Agreed with your comments. The only people that are reporting on the situation in Iraq comes from Al Qaeda twitter accounts. Really???

Posted by Dave E. at July 20, 2014 2:21 AM ET:

When the army depot at Taji falls, and I fear it will soon, kiss the state of Iraq goodbye.

Posted by Mike e at July 20, 2014 11:56 AM ET:

Obamas premature withdrawal from Iraq will go down in history as the worst foreign policy mistake in US history.

Posted by Anonymous at July 20, 2014 12:04 PM ET:

Alex above makes a good point. McClatchy dosnt have a stellar record on accurate reporting from Iraq. Also, a few weeks ago we were all informed by the BBC that the Bayji refinery was in ISIS hands. That still appears untrue. Furthermore, ISIS appears to be losing a lot of people to air strikes, including drones, probably American, in Mosul and to ground combat in Tal Afar west of Mosul. This appears to be the Peshmerga at work. Cutting ISIS off from fuel from Der Izzor in Syria , by Kurd control of Tal Afar,
would be a huge blow.

Posted by Mason at July 20, 2014 7:21 PM ET:

The Iranians gave weapons to Shia and Sunni groups during the Iraq war. They thought they could operate in the chaos better than the U.S.

The Iranians literally made this whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Let's see, if they can survive it.

I hope people note that getting out of the way and letting your enemies kill each other is different than being disinterested dilettante in foreign affairs whose main interest in domestic affairs. After the fact the dilettante will ascribe other motivations for their actions than disinterest.

Posted by Neo at July 20, 2014 7:46 PM ET:

Although the details are a bit sketchy, the ISIS attack on Iraqi troop columns who had driven into Tikrit, sounds somewhat reminiscent tactics used by Chechen rebels in the New Years Eve assault at the start of the First Battle of Grozny in 1995. In the initial stages of the first Chechen war Russian armored columns drove into Grozny against light opposition. Once they reached the center of town the Chechen’s pounced on Russian troops who where strung out along the avenues at the center of Grozni. They were hit by small combat groups divided into fire teams. The Russian troops, having to fight exposed positions in urban terrain nullified much of the advantage of using armored transports and heavy weaponry.

Posted by Winston at July 21, 2014 2:49 AM ET:

People are talking in forums that ISIS is no defender of Islam, given what is happening in Gaza and how close its presence is to Israel. They are saying there is something fishy about ISIS.

Posted by JRP at July 21, 2014 9:28 AM ET:

The Islamic State will use the distractions of Gaza and Ukraine to intensify its siege of Baghdad. It may even have its sights set on an attack against the U.S. Embassy ala Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. The formal Iraqi Gov't can't govern and the people still ruled by the Iraqi Gov't haven't the stomach for war. Everyone seems to be discounting the Islamic State. This is a grave mistake. Rather than worrying about Gaza and Ukraine, in its own National Interest the United States must start formulating a battle plan against the Islamic State to prevent IS from mounting an attack either against our interests in country or against our Homeland.

Posted by Alex at July 21, 2014 10:45 AM ET:

Anonymous, could you provide some links talking about those air strikes? I've seen some of the footage on LiveLeak but there's no way to tell how recent any of that is (i.e.: was it filmed years ago but only uploaded recently) nor how effective they are.

Posted by Fred at July 21, 2014 4:14 PM ET:

Anyone talking about the US going back there is crazy. That isn't happening and shouldn't happen. This was a dumb war to begin with. Even if the Shiites somehow beat the Sunnis back into submission they will still be an ally of Iran more than the US. What strategic benefit do we gain from that?

We should not be throwing good money after bad. Yes, it's a shame about the blood and treasure we lost there- it's a travesty really. It was a horrible decision to attack in the first place and we are going to be dealing with the fallout for a long, long time. That doesn't make it any more of a good idea for us to step in at this point.

Posted by Manus at July 23, 2014 6:55 PM ET:

I…and over-whelming majority of the American people are very happy that Obama got us out of Iraq.

That said, developments both before and since our withdrawal have "handed" this geo-political area into Iran's sphere: let them deal with it with their buddies in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Sunnis-of-old are going to have to eventually deal with IS.

The Iraqi Kurds are sitting in the driver's seat.

Let the Iraq partition begin….