Iraq forces in major push against ISIL in Anbar
Baghdad // Iraqi forces have launched a broad offensive to retake the city of Hit from ISIL in the western province of Anbar.
Led by the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, forces from the police, army and local tribal fighters were making a final push to retake Hit, 145 kilometres west of Baghdad.
“They have begun a broad operation to liberate Hit and Kubaysa,” said Major General Ali Ibrahim Daboun, the head of the Al Jazeera Operations Command.
Kubaysa is a smaller town a few miles west of Hit, a key hub along the Euphrates that the extremists have controlled since October 2014.
Gen Daboun said Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters had retaken a cement plant west of Kubaysa and raised the Iraqi flag there.
“Members of the terrorist Daesh gangs have fled back into the town centre,” the head of the local council for Al Baghdadi district, Malallah AlObeidi, said.
Gen Daboun said Iraqi aircraft and jets from the US-led international coalition were providing air support.
Al Asad military air base, which houses a large contingent of US and other foreign military advisers, lies around 35 kilometres north-west of Hit.
Iraq’s security forces launched a final push against ISIL in Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi late last year and established full control over the city last month.
Aid agencies have voiced concern over the fate of an estimated 35,000 civilians who have fled Hit and its surroundings in the run-up to the latest military offensive.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said late on Friday that thousands of freshly displaced people were stranded in areas where very little assistance is available.
The organisation said it was able to deliver aid for the first time on Friday to around 12,000 people west of Ramadi.
“We don’t know how they managed to survive. Repeated access is crucial in order to help the remaining thousands of people who urgently need humanitarian aid,” said Katharina Ritz, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq.
IS still controls vast areas of Anbar province near the borders with Jordan and Syria, as well as the city of Fallujah, which is only 50 kilometres from Baghdad.
Meanwhile, an American member of the international anti-ISIL coalition was killed in northern Iraq on Saturday due to “enemy action”, the Pentagon said.
The CNN news channel reported he was killed by a rocket attack on a base in Makhmur, an area around 70 kilometres south-east of the main ISIL hub of Mosul.
It also said that a “small number” of other American troops were wounded in the attack.
Makhmur lies within territory controlled by the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan, but Baghdad has recently been deploying federal forces there to prepare for an offensive against Mosul.
The coalition’s main role in the war against IS has been to provide air support, with close to 10,000 strikes destroying or damaging more than 16,000 targets since the summer of 2014.
But the United States and some of its leading partners in the coalition such as France, Britain, Australia and Italy also have significant contingents deployed on the ground Iraq.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: March 20, 2016 04:00 AM