Islamic State takes over large portions of town near key airbase in Anbar

The town of al Baghdadi in Iraq’s Anbar province sits close to the Al Asad airbase where over 300 US Marines are stationed.

The Islamic State has taken control of large portions of the town of al Baghdadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. The town, which is 50 miles northwest of Ramadi, has been under siege for months after the Islamic State launched an offensive in Anbar last summer and took control of the nearby town of Hit.

According to Reuters, a district manager said that “Ninety percent of al-Baghdadi district has fallen under the control of the insurgents.” Reuters goes on to say that the Islamic State attacked from two directions, and then proceeded to advance into the town. The Washington Post reported that an estimated 1,000 fighters took part in the offensive in al Baghdadi. This number cannot be independently verified, however, given the strategic importance of the objective, it is likely that a large numbers of Islamic State militants are taking part in the offensive.

Other Iraqi officials claimed that Iraqi Security Forces and their Sunni tribal allies in the Awakening were able to drive the Islamic State attackers back. However, Sheikh Naim of the Albu Nimr tribe countered these claims by saying that the Islamic State now controls large portions of al Baghdadi, according to Almada. Naim goes on to say that, “the security forces did not launch until now any military operation to retake areas seized by the organization [Islamic State].”

Additionally, a small group of Islamic State fighters attacked the nearby Al Asad airbase after gaining ground in al Baghdadi. The Washington Post reported that eight jihadists, including three suicide bombers, launched a suicide assault on the base but were all killed. No significant damage to the base was reported.

The Islamic State took credit for attacking Al Asad, in a message released in its daily radio announcements.

“In addition, the army of the Caliphate made progress in the area of al Baghdadi, as soldiers of the Islamic State targeted the Safavid [a derogatory term for Shiites referring to the ancient Persian dynasty] al Asad Base in al-Baghdadi, where the American military trains forces of the Safavid army,” the statement, which was translated by SITE Intelligence Group, said.

The Islamic State also talked about its advances the town in the same statement. “Also, soldiers of the Caliphate took control over the Citizenship Department, in which the Safavids had fortified themselves,” the statement said, “and the al Baghdadi police station, and a barracks of the Safavid army, and the shameful Awakenings [Sunni tribal allies of the ISF] on the Wahid bridge in Jubah, and also cut off the al Baghdadi – Haditha highway.”

The Islamic State was able to advance into al Baghdadi despite Coalition air support in the area. US officials confirmed that American troops based at Al Asad did not directly engage the Islamic State attackers on the ground. However, Coalition aircraft launched “five airstrikes” near Al Asad “between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today” and “struck four ISIL [Islamic State] tactical units and destroyed an ISIL VBIED, an ISIL checkpoint and an ISIL armored earth mover,” according to a statement by US Central Command.

Currently, around 320 US Marines are stationed at Al Asad. The Marines are there to train and reorganize the Iraqi Security Forces and Sunni tribal fighters to fight the Islamic State. Al Asad also hosts the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, which has suffered several setbacks in the region. [For more, see LWJ reports Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar, Islamic State photos highlight group’s grip on Ramadi, and Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya.]

The Iraqi Army and police were demoralized and largely defeated in northern, central, and western after the Islamic State launched its offensive beginning in June 2014. Several divisions have been rendered combat ineffective due to heavy losses and desertions. The Iraqi government has turned to Shiite militias to bolster the security forces. The militias, which are backed by Iran and include groups that are listed by the US as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, have been instrumental in reinforcing Iraqi forces, and have helped retake some areas in Iraq, including Jurf al Sakhar and Amerli.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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4 Comments

  • Dave says:

    Various other sources report that the sappers entered unopposed wearing Iraqi Army uniforms. The base is characterized as sprawling, covering 25 square miles, and the American forces were said to be several kiliometers from the attack. A ripe plum.

  • “No boots on the ground” has been defined as no combat troops.
    Given that, will our Marines be disciplined if they defend themselves if (when) they come under enemy fire?
    Probably so. The Marines at the Embassy in Sana’a were criticized for destroying their weapons during the withdrawal.
    My father enlisted in December 1939. I’m glad he’s not around to see the degradation which is being forced upon our military.

  • mike merlo says:

    Great news. Muslim killing Muslim coupled with the Sunni vs Shia hence at least ‘somebody’ willing to go toe-to-toe with an Iranian proxy/extra territorial Force vis a vie The Sunni Extremist’s. Very cool

  • EAS says:

    I was based at Al Asad in 2004 with RCT-7. Al Baghdadi doesn’t have much to offer except control of the main road into Al Asad. If IS controls the former route Bronze corridor, then they virtually control all traffic in western Al Anbar from the Mobile/Bronze split to Hit, Haditha, Rawah, and Al Qaim. One good thing about Al Asad is that it is hard to sneak up on if properly defended. The base had an interlocking tower system that gave a good enough view that the enemy could not get close enough to use mortars. They had to use rockets fired from about 20 miles away. But I seriously doubt the Iraqis had the stamina to stand tower watch without us to prod them along. We should have kept the base and used it as one of our overseas bases much like Korea or Okinawa. The base is large enough to house a Special MAGTAF.

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