A top U.S. commander in Iraq maintained Friday that ISIS was on the defensive while conceding that renewed attacks by the terror group had made gains in the seesaw battles for the key cities of Ramadi and Baiji.
Amid conflicting reports that Ramadi had fallen, Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley said that the situation in the city of 900,000 about 70 miles west of Baghdad was "dynamic and fluid" after a series of complex attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters using suicide bombers, mortars and small arms.
"Some gains have been made" by ISIS but "areas of Ramadi remain contested" by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), said Weidley, chief of staff for Combine Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. "It is a tough fight right now," Weidley said.
The situation in Baiji, home to a huge oil refinery, also was "highly contested," Weidley said in an audio briefing to the Pentagon from an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. Weidley said about 400 ISF troops were besieged inside Baiji and were being re-supplied by airdrop.
ISIS fighters also reportedly were attacking ISF relief columns on the main road to the south. Weidley said that militants had breached the perimeter of the refinery and the group "maintains episodic control of some refinery facilities in order to continue attacking Iraqi Security Forces."
In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, residents told Western reporters that ISIS was broadcasting victory statements from city mosques, but the governor of the province, Sohaib al Rawi, said via Twitter that "The situation in Ramadi is dire, but the city has not fallen" and the fight against ISIS was continuing.
Despite ISIS’ gains, "We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq," Weidley said, using another term for ISIS. "We believe throughout the campaign there will be periods of progress and periods of setback" in the campaign to "degrade, dismantle and defeat Daesh," Weidley said.
To underline the U.S. commitment, Weidley said the U.S. and its coalition partners had conducted a total of about 550 airstrikes in and around Ramadi and Baiji since the bombing campaign began last Aug. 8. In the last month alone, the Baiji area had been targeted by airstrikes 176 times and Ramadi 165 times, Weidley said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com