PENTAGON - The time is right for Iraqi forces to make a “final push” to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State fighters, according to the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militant group.
Iraqi security forces squeezed tighter around Anbar’s provincial capital, advancing 15 kilometers in the last week after months of slowed fighting due to a brutally hot Iraqi summer and the religious observances of Ramadan and the hajj, Col. Steve Warren told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad. The push came in tandem with an increase in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes there, with 52 strikes in or near Ramadi in the last 10 days.
“With the combination of the recent successes that they’ve had, along with the increased air power and increased ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) that we’ve allocated to the Ramadi fight, we believe that now is the time for a final push,” Warren said.
Iraqi forces have encircled Ramadi, covering all four approaches into the city. They now must carefully battle through “dense urban terrain,” said Warren.
The United States estimates between 600-1,000 Islamic State fighters are in Ramadi, but according to Warren, they have had plenty of time to “dig in” and establish trenches, minefields and other obstacles.
On the Iraqi side, forces that have been on the line for some time have been replaced by fresh troops, many of whom were trained by coalition forces, Warren said. Iraqi F-16 fighter jets also have recently joined the battle in support of ground forces.
The Islamic State group’s push into Ramadi has been considered one of biggest Iraqi setbacks this year, with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying the city’s fall showed the Iraqi army lacked the “will to fight.''
Since then, the U.S. has encouraged the Iraqis to push into Ramadi and other areas controlled by the Islamic State militants.
“They (Islamic State militants) have not gained an inch of territory in Iraq since Ramadi, not a millimeter,” Warren said in praise of Iraqi forces fighting the militants. “All they’ve done is hunker down and watch while their friends get killed from the air or from the ground.”