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.