The US military is reporting that the Iraqi military and allied tribal fighters have ousted Islamic State militants from the town of Al-Baghdadi. As reported in Al-Jazeera English, Iraqi security forces and fighters from both Sunni tribes and Shia armed groups, backed by coalition air strikes, were able to retake the town’s police station and three bridges on the Euphrates River.
“The Iraqi military, with the help of coalition air strikes, had already broken the siege of Al-Baghdadi a couple of days ago. What the Americans are announcing now appears to be that they cleared the town of more ISIL fighters, making a few more gains around there.” Al-Jazeera’s Jane Arraf said.
ISIS had captured those three bridges in September 2014, and had gained control of the majority of Al-Baghdadi in February. The city is located only 7 miles from Ayn al-Asad Airbase, where US military advisers are training approximately 800 Iraqi soldiers.
Retaking the city was a priority for the Iraqi and United States’ military. Elaborating on Al-Baghdadi’s strategic importance, Arraf said, “Al-Baghdadi is significant to the US because, of course, their troops are at the Ayn al-Asad Airbase, which is not far from there, and significant to Iraqis because thousands of people from the town were displaced. Some of them had to be evacuated by air by the military after ISIS surrounded the town.”
According to the USA Today, Iraqi forces were able to force ISIS militants from seven other nearby villages. American ground forces did not directly participate in the battle, but instead provided support with surveillance, advisers, and other assistance. There are concerns in some quarters that US troops could be drawn into the conflict because of the proximity between the fighting in the airbase.
As reported by the Voice of America, the airbase was attacked in February when approximately 25 Islamic State militants disguised themselves in Iraqi military uniforms. Some of the attackers detonated their suicide vests during the attack. No American personnel were anywhere near the fighting, and Iraqi security forces were able to kill the attackers without suffering any fatalities.
NBC News reported that since ISIS gained control of the city in February, the US-led coalition has launched 26 airstrikes as part of the campaign to retake the area.