IS seizes Iraq town near US forces: Pentagon

IS seizes Iraq town near US forces: Pentagon
US to resupply Jordan with munitions, possibly including precision guided arms. US officials, meanwhile, play down Iraqi army setback in Anbar.
4 min read
14 February, 2015
Iraqi soldiers guard Asad air base where they repelled an attack Friday by IS (AFP)
Islamic State fighters have captured the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, putting them within striking distance of an air base where American troops are training Iraqi forces, the US military said Friday.


The fall of the town, which the Pentagon played down as a minor setback, came as the US readies plans to resupply Jordan with munitions, possibly including precision-guided arms.


     This is an enemy that we still assess to be in a defensive posture.

- John Kirby, Pentagon

"We do assess that right now they have control of Al-Baghdadi," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference Friday, adding IS took hold of the town "in the past several days."


The town is located in Anbar province, some eight kilometres from the Asad air base, where about 300 US Marines are stationed to assist Iraqi government troops.


The IS group had also launched an unsuccessful assault involving suicide bombers on the air base, but the attack was repelled, officials said.


Kirby was keen to emphasize that Iraqi soldiers had kept at bay group of 20-25 IS fighters, most of them wearing Iraqi army uniforms, without US assistance.


All of the militants were killed or died when detonating suicide bombs.


US-led coalition aircraft carried out five air strikes in the area over the past 24 hours, roughly 15 kilometres from the Asad base, but those were not related to the brief firefight with the IS militants at Asad, officials said.


"There were no aircraft involved in beating back this," Kirby said. "The Iraqi security forces did this on their own."


Under pressure


Al-Baghdadi had been under growing pressure for months and was one of the few towns that had remained under the Iraqi government's control in the predominantly Sunni province. 


But the Pentagon said the capture of the town did not represent a major setback in the war effort against the Islamists who have overrun large areas of Iraq and Syria.


"This is arguably the first in at least a couple of months, if not more, where they (IS) have had any success at all at taking any new ground," Kirby said.


"So this is an enemy that we still assess to be in a defensive posture."


He added: "It's one town. It's not all of Anbar. It's not all of Iraq.


"We need to keep it in perspective."


US officials have said it will take some time before Iraqi troops are trained and ready to stage a major counter-offensive in Anbar province, where much of the Sunni population has become alienated from the Shia-led leadership in Baghdad.


Washington is pinning its hopes on Iraqi government plans to build up a militia among the Sunni tribes in the area against the IS group.


Supplying Jordan


The Pentagon also said it is finalising plans to re-stock Jordan’s munitions in the coming weeks, as it expedites military aid to the country, and could also provide Jordan’s military with precision guided arms.


The move comes a week after King Abdullah directly asked US lawmakers for more support and as Jordanian sources say the country’s supply is being stretched thin after the military expanded its role in the US-led fight against the IS group.


Jordan has been aggressively pursuing IS targets since the release earlier this month of a video showing the grizzly murder of a Jordanian pilot who had been captured by IS after his plane crashed.


The Pentagon estimated that Jordanian planes have struck at least 72 targets since then, but the country will struggle to keep up such intensity without more US aid.


Abdullah met with US lawmakers in Washington last week, saying he sought precision munitions along with aircraft parts and additional night vision equipment, and noted delays in working through normal US channels.


That prompted a letter from the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republican Senator John McCain, urging the Obama administration to process Jordan's requests "with a sense of urgency reflecting the pace of events”.


"If the (Obama) administration does not up its game with Jordan in terms of equipment for their military, help on refugees, there will be strong pushback from Congress," Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican committee member, told Reuters.