Iraq Army Masses Outside Western Town as U.S. Strikes Militants

Iraqi soldiers and police, backed by some tribal fighters, are regrouping around the strategically important town of Hit in western Iraq after it was seized by Islamic State militants last week.

The Iraqi forces are “making a ring round the town to prevent more Islamic State militants entering and stop any logistical support” for those in Hit, Anbar province police chief Ahmed Al-Dulaimi said by phone. Retaking the town northwest of Ramadi, the regional capital, will require more strikes by aircraft of the U.S.-led coalition, he said.

Hit, which lies a few hours drive from Baghdad along the Euphrates river between Ramadi and Haditha, fell to Islamic State on Oct. 3, after a battle that left streets strewn with bodies and local police and government buildings destroyed.

Islamic State will likely try to use Hit as a base to capture the nearby al-Asad airbase, which it views as a key objective to achieve full control over Anbar and threaten the capital, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

The group has continued its advance in Anbar despite an expanding campaign of airstrikes, and is targeting the few remaining areas not under its control.

Yesterday, U.S. Central Command said it conducted six airstrikes in Iraq the previous day, including one in Hit that destroyed two Islamic State Humvees. The U.S. military also carried out four bombing missions in the nearby city of Fallujah and one in the town of Sinjar, CENTCOM said.

Al-Dulaimi said Iraqi forces are also focusing on preventing the fall of Ramadi and that there are daily clashes near the city.

“There is a good defense of Ramadi, and it will not be an easy target for Islamic State gangs,” he said.

Ramadi has been contested since January, after Fallujah fell to Islamic State. The militants are present in some neighborhoods in the south of Ramadi, including Andalus, Mualmeen, Houl and Aramel, al-Dulaimi said.

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