Middle East

Islamic State: Key Iraqi town near US training base falls to jihadists

Media captionRear Admiral John Kirby: ''They certainly did get to the perimeter of the base''

Islamic State (IS) has captured an Iraqi town about 8km (5 miles) from an air base housing hundreds of US troops, the Pentagon says.

US officials downplayed the fall of al-Baghdadi, which is within striking distance of the Ain al-Asad air base.

Ain al-Asad was itself attacked by IS on Friday though the militants were repelled, officials say.

Until its fall, al-Baghdadi was one of the few towns in the western Anbar province still held by the Iraqi army.

Rear Adm John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the development had to be put into perspective.

It was the first time in the last a couple of months that the militant group had taken new ground, he said.

Friday's attack on the air base is prompting some in Washington to question again whether deploying US ground forces against IS can really be avoided - particularly when it comes to recapturing urban areas where air strikes might risk killing innocent civilians, BBC Washington reporter Naomi Grimley reports.

Who are Islamic State (IS)?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Islamic State fighters have seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria (file image from Raqqa)
  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It then captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of captives and public executions
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria

US troops stationed at Ain al-Asad are currently training Iraqi forces.

Rear Adm Kirby said the base had been attacked by a team of suicide bombers.

Eight militants were killed in the subsequent counter-attack, US and Iraqi officials reported, saying that the jihadists were pushed back by Iraqi troops backed by coalition fighter planes.

The US marines at Ain al-Asad are part of a force President Obama sent to Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces in their battle to regain territory lost to IS.

Washington is spearheading an air campaign against the jihadist group, which seized large parts of Iraq and Syria last year.

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