PENTAGON - The commander of the Islamic State group's forces in Fallujah has been killed in an airstrike, a spokesman for the international coalition battling IS fighters in Iraq and Syria said Friday.
Col. Steve Warren, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, said the coalition strike targeting Maher al-Bilawi in Fallujah happened two days ago. He said the coalition had gathered information on the militants’ headquarters and on Bilawi’s whereabouts in the city.
"This is some intelligence we had developed locally. We worked it very rapidly and we took an effective strike," Warren said.
Warren said the coalition has conducted 20 airstrikes at Fallujah in the last four days, killing more than 70 enemy fighters. Coalition forces at al-Taqqaddum Air Base, about 25 kilometers away, are also providing some artillery fire to help Iraqis battling to retake the city.
Thousands of forces, including members of the Iraqi army, police, Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) are battling an estimated 1,000 Islamic State fighters who have extensively fortified the city with trenches and minefields.
Shiite militia groups are also involved in the fight but have said they will remain outside the city.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford, the top U.S. general, told VOA and two other reporters last week that the Iraqis are trying to mitigate the risk of attacks from Fallujah into Baghdad, which is less than 70 kilometers away.
"There’s clearly a threat given the proximity,” Dunford said, “and so what the Iraqis are doing is taking appropriate action to disrupt that threat and to isolate the enemy that's inside of Fallujah.”
Up to 50,000 civilians remain in Fallujah, Warren said, adding that protecting these citizens is Iraqi government’s “priority.”