Fighters from the Islamic State in Anbar province ambushed and destroyed a large Iraqi Army column in a village north of Ramadi. The successful attack occurred despite almost eight weeks of airstrikes by the US military on Islamic State forces throughout Iraq.
Pictures from the recent fighting in the village of Albu Aytha, which is just north of Ramadi, across the river, have been disseminated on Twitter by fighters and supporters of the Islamic State. The terrorist organization has taken to releasing its propaganda via its supporters on Twitter as the the majority of its official accounts are continuously being suspended by the social media site.
While the authenticity of the photographs cannot be confirmed, the captions bear the title of Wilayat (province or state) Anbar. The exact date of the ambush was not provided, but most official pictures are usually published within days of the actual attack.
The Islamic State has reportedly been besieging an Iraqi Army unit in Albu Aytha. Al Jazeera reported that more than 240 soldiers from the 30th Mechanized Brigade are “trapped” in the village and running low on supplies and food.
Several photos show badly damaged or burned out vehicles, with fighters from the Islamic State inspecting the vehicles or checking for survivors. Pictures also show charred bodies of the Iraqi troops, and the corpses of soldiers who were gunned down during the fighting. It appears that Islamic State fighters were able to detonate at least two IEDs during the attack.
In one picture, at least six captured M113 armored personnel carriers and four Humvees are shown abandoned in a field. Other photos show several damaged or abandoned vehicles. And in another photograph, an Islamic State fighter fires an antitank missile at an M1 Abrams tank and successfully hits the target.
The Islamic State fighters were also able to take over an Iraqi police checkpoint in the area. In one photo, the Islamic State’s black flag is shown flying above the checkpoint. Other pictures demonstrate that the group was able to secure a large amount of ammunition and gear from the military.
Islamic State consolidating its grip on Anbar
If confirmed, the Islamic State’s successful rout of the Iraqi military unit in Albu Aytha is the second major setback for the Army in Anbar in the past two weeks. On Sept. 21, an Islamic State unit overran an Iraqi base in Saqlawiya, a town just northeast of Fallujah in Anbar. An estimated 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed during the Islamic State’s assault and subsequent ambush of retreating Iraqi troops. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were wounded or are reported missing. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar.]
Islamic State fighters have successfully ambushed Iraqi armored columns in Anbar in the past. In July, the Islamic State destroyed a column of Iraqi Army M1 Abrams tanks, M113s, and other vehicles in Khalidiya, a town situated between Ramadi and Fallujah. [See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar.]
The Islamic State controls most of Anbar province. West of Haditha, the Islamic State runs the towns of Anah, Rawa, and the border town of Al Qaim. The jihadist group also controls the far-flung towns of Rutbah and Nukhaib. The status of the Tarbil border crossing to Jordan and the Al Walid crossing to Syria is undetermined. Although there are reports that local tribes assumed control of the crossings, the Islamic State has displayed photographs of its fighters at the strategic locations.
The Iraqi military previously had two divisions, the 1st and the 7th, deployed in Anbar but most of these forces have withered since the Islamic State took control of Fallujah in January and extended its operations throughout the province. Many Iraqi soldiers are thought to have deserted; the exact number is not known, however. One estimate puts the number of overall desertions for the Iraqi Army at over 90,000. The Iraqi military has not released information on the number of soldiers killed and wounded since the Islamic State launched its offensive in mid-June.
The leadership of the 7th Division crumbled in late December 2013 after an Islamic State suicide team killed the division commander and 17 members of his staff in an ambush in Rutbah.
The situation in Ramadi has become so dire that the Iraqi government has deployed 4,000 members of the newly raised militias, who are primarily Shias, to an area that is overwhelmingly Sunni. The militia members were “ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter,” ABC News reported, demonstrating how thoroughly the Islamic State controls the road from Baghdad to Ramadi. The Iraqi military has announced it has successfully cleared areas of Ramadi multiple times since the summer.
Since launching the second phase of its operation to control territory in Iraq on June 10, the Islamic State took seized most of Ninewa province, to include Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city; most of Salahaddin province; and areas in Diyala province. Additionally, the Islamic State has been waging an offensive in northern Babil province in the area known as the Triangle of Death, and is said to be in control of several areas, including Jufr al Sakhar. The Islamic State is seeking to take over the belt area around Baghdad, and squeeze the capital and make it ungovernable. [See LWJ report, Analysis: ISIS, allies reviving ‘Baghdad belts’ battle plan.]
The Iraqi government has largely halted the Islamic State’s southward advance outside of Samarra, which is just north of Baghdad. Thousands of Iranian-supported Shia militiamen from Asaib al Haq, Hezbollah Brigades, and Muqtada al Sadr’s Peace Brigade are currently deployed between the road from Baghdad to Samarra. Iraqi military and national police units are nowhere to be found on the road, The New York Times reported in July.
The US started launching airstrikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq on Aug. 7 and helped Kurdish forces retake some areas lost in northern Ninewa as well as helping a joint Kurdish and Shia militia force retake the town of Amerli. The US supported the Hezbollah Brigades and Asaib al Haq, two Iranian-backed Shia militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers from 2006 to 2011, in Amerli.
The Islamic State’s territory spans both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the Islamic State controls Raqqah, much of Deir al Zour, and areas in Aleppo and Hasakah provinces. The US began its air campaign against the Islamic State on Sept. 22, but the jihadist group continues to press an offensive in Kobane near the border with Turkey.
Photographs from the ambush of an Iraqi Army armored column north of Ramadi
An Iraqi military Humvee before it is hit in an IED attack:
The IED is detonated:
Fighters inspecting a badly damaged Humvee:
A burned out armored personnel carrier:
Fighters inspecting abandoned and damaged vehicles:
More abandoned Iraqi Army vehicles:
Iraqi police station with the black flag flying above:
Islamic State fighters moving captured ammunition and gear into a captured vehicle:
An antitank missile firing at an M1 Abrams near Ramadi:
The antitank missile successfully hits the M1 Abrams: