US confirms Iraqi forces have retaken town from IS
Bolstered by US airstrikes, Iraqi ground forces recaptured Rutba this week after IS fighters fled or put up only light resistance, US military officers said.
Lieutenant-General Sean MacFarland told reporters that it was an important victory for the Iraqi security forces, even though Rutba is a small town.
MacFarland said that taking Rutba from IS will allow the reopening of the main road from Amman to Baghdad, which he said is a significant economic lifeline for Iraq.
"Although it's a small town, it's an important success for the Iraqi security forces," he said.
Another US officer, Marine Brigadier-General Bill Mullen, said in a separate interview that US airstrikes outside the town were the decisive factor in the battle, apparently persuading the IS fighters to flee rather than put up substantial resistance.
He said there were a "couple of hundred" IS fighters in Rutba before the Iraqi assault. But by the time the Iraqis arrived all but about 30 had fled north to the city of al-Qaim or across the border into Syria.
Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US military command in Baghdad, said the Iraqis had sent about 1,000 troops to Rutba. They were a combination of federal police, Sunni tribal fighters, border security forces and members of the Counter-Terrorism Force.
The Islamic State group had used Rutba as a staging area for weaponry and foreign fighters flowing into Iraq, Warren said.
Beyond the recapturing of Rutba, US officials were focused mainly on preparing Iraqi security forces for an assault on Mosul, the Islamic State group's main stronghold in Iraq.