A U.S.-trained Iraqi crew working with a U.S.-supplied M1A1 Abrams tank now known as the "Beast" played a major role in taking and clearing the town of Hit in western Anbar province of ISIS fighters, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.
"It's become a bit of a folk hero" to the Iraqi Counter-Terror Services and regular Iraqi army troops who drove militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, from Hit and are now engaged in clearing operations in the Euphrates valley town, Army Col. Steve Warren said of the tracked vehicle.
"The tank has been so successful, this one tank crew, that American advisers have given it the 'Hero of the Day' award for several days," said Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad.
The "Beast" was one of three Iraqi Abrams tanks backing Iraqi forces as they entered Hit but the two other tanks broke down, Warren said in a video briefing to the Pentagon. That left the "Beast" to blast away at Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighting positions and vehicles while destroying improvised explosive device emplacements, Warren said.
"They're really tearing it up," he said of the tank and its crew. "They're out there just plain old getting after it." He tweeted out a video of the tank destroying an ISIS vehicle.
Warren said the actions in Hit were emblematic of the growing successes in the fight against ISIS despite the stall in the push on Mosul in northwestern Iraq and continued infighting among U.S.-backed militia groups in Syria.
The first phase, or "Phase One," of the campaign against ISIS -- the degradation of ISIS' offensive capabilities -- had now ended and the U.S. was focused on "Phase Two" -- the dismantling of ISIS infrastructure and the targeting of its leadership and sources of funding, Warren said. He could give no timeline on when "Phase Three" would begin -- the ultimate defeat of the terror group.
"Phase One of the military campaign is complete, and we are now in Phase Two, which is to dismantle this enemy," he said. ISIS "can still put together some complex attacks (but) they have not been able to take hold of any key terrain for almost a year now," he said.
Even so, Warren acknowledged that the attempts by Iraqi forces to push northward from Makhmour, about 60 miles southeast of Mosul, have bogged down against heavy ISIS resistance despite support from the four .155mm howitzers of an artillery unit from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which set up a fire base in Makhmour last month.
The Iraqi forces at Makhmour "have not fought at the level we'd like them to" and one of their commanders recently was relieved, he said. "Yes, there have been moments when they could have done better."
Warren also said that U.S.-backed militias in Syria were still occasionally battling each other rather than joining to fight ISIS. "There's been some friction on the battlefield," which Warren attributed to "ancient animosities. So we do see some of this but we don't see this as a problem."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.