A spokesman for U.S. Central Command (Centcom), which oversees American-led airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), told reporters that that the jihadist group was on the defensive and losing territory in Iraq.
Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, briefed reporters last Friday on U.S. operations against ISIS, discounting the terrorist group’s ability to mount major attacks.
“When you look across the entire battle space and look at where ISIL was last summer and look at where ISIL is today, [they] continue to be on the defensive in Iraq and they’re losing territory,” Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, told reporters.
“While initial reports may sometimes give the impression [ISIL is on the offensive], we see no evidence that they’re able to do so,” he added.
Fast forward to a week later: some news reports are painting a different picture.
Various news outlets are reporting that ISIS has seized most of the Baiji oil refinery, the largest in Iraq, located north of Baghdad in Salahuddin province.
The extent to which ISIS controls the facility varies, an Iraq Oil Report article mentions that the terrorist group controls 80 percent of the compound while Spanish news agency EFE reports that 60 percent of the facility has fallen to the control of the jihadists.
However, the consensus among most news outlets is that ISIS has overrun most of the facility.
Last Friday, Col. Ryder said the Iraqi forces had taken back the oil facility from ISIS and, at the time, were “conducting clearing operations and successfully repelling ISIL’s attempts to [re-]gain control of the refinery.”
A senior Energy Police official told Iraq Oil Report this week that “pro-government forces had lost control of the whole interior of the compound and were only able to contest positions along the perimeter.”
China’s Xinhua reports that ISIS had expanded into the refinery, noting that it had captured “more than half” of the facility.
The Australian reports that the terrorist group has seized “part” of the refinery.
An ISIS-linked suicide attack in the town of Baiji, where the refinery is located, killed at least 16 members of the Iraqi security forces on Friday, reports Kurdish media outlet Rudaw.
The Iraqi Ministry Defense reportedly acknowledged that fierce battles between Iraqi forces and terrorists seeking to seize the oil facility continue to rage.
A police officer in Salahudin province told Rudaw that Iraqi troops defending the Baiji refinery were under “intense attack” by ISIS jihadists, adding that the terrorists “have been able to surround Iraqi forces inside the refinery and cut off military support.”
An unnamed provincial security official told Xinhua that in Anbar province Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite and Sunni militias “imposed a siege on the IS-held town of Garma, just east of the city of Fallujah, some 50 km [31 miles] west of Baghdad, while the troops are fighting fierce clashes with the IS militants inside the town.”
According to a statement from Centcom, as of the end of last week, nearly 6,100 ISIS targets had been damaged or destroyed since the U.S.-led airstrikes began in August of last year.
The targets that have been hit include 77 tanks, 287 Humvees, 416 staging posts, 1,757 buildings, 1,330 fighting positions, 152 oil facilities, and 2,078 other different targets.
Overall, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted in excess 3,500 airstrikes against ISIS since the group overran Iraq last summer, seizing large swaths of the country.
The U.S. has reportedly spent more than $2 billion on anti-ISIS operations. Pentagon estimates place the daily cost at $8.5 million.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.