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US Vows to Help Iraqi Government Retake Ramadi

An Iraqi soldier carries a girl displaced by fighting in Ramadi across a bridge at the outskirts of Baghdad, May 19, 2015.

An Iraqi soldier carries a girl displaced by fighting in Ramadi across a bridge at the outskirts of Baghdad, May 19, 2015.

U.S. officials say they are ready to help Iraq's military retake Ramadi as soon as possible. The Anbar provincial capital has been in the hands of the Islamic State since Sunday.

A State Department official told reporters the U.S. is taking an "extremely hard look" at its strategy against the group after the loss. A defense official echoed the sentiment to reporters Wednesday.

"From our perspective, what happened in Ramadi was a setback, certainly concerning," said Colonel Pat Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East.

However, Ryder added the U.S. was confident that despite the difficulty, Iraqi forces are regrouping outside of Ramadi and should be able to retake the ground because they have the numbers and the coalition backing them up.

"Putting this in the bigger picture, and looking longer term, momentum will continue to be on our side," he said.

He also said the U.S. believes Iraqi and Kurdish forces trained by U.S. forces will help strengthen Iraq's security. He said none of the troops trained by American soldiers were stationed at Ramadi when it fell to the militants.

Officials say Islamic State militants used a combination of car bombs and sniper fire to push Iraqi Security Forces out of Ramadi. One official said the militants even packed a bulldozer with explosives to breach the security perimeter of a government-controlled compound, taking out an entire city block.

The official added the U.S. is sending 1,000 anti-tank systems to Iraq to counter suicide car-bomb attacks, arriving as soon as possible.

Counter-attack in works

The routed Iraqi troops have retreated east of the city, while Shi'ite militias answered the call of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to mass near Ramadi in preparation for a potential counter-offensive.

The State Department official said the U.S. has been working "around the clock" with Iraqis to hold their lines, consolidate and think about how to counter-attack.

Ben Connable, a regional analyst at RAND Corporation, told VOA on Wednesday that leaving behind tanks, personnel carriers and artillery when Iraqi troops fled Ramadi made the situation "much worse."

"That's exactly how the Islamic State acquires most of its equipment. It also is a one-for-one tradeoff – clearly the Iraqi security forces are now that much weaker because they don't have that equipment," Connable said.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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