Syrian troops and Iraqi forces backed by Shiite fighters are bolstering their efforts to root out the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) from key territory in both countries.
In Iraq, the country’s security forces and Iran-backed Shiite fighters renewed their offensive to liberate the western city of Ramadi, located in Anbar, Iraq’s largest province.
ISIS captured the strategic city about a week ago.
“Police sources said Iraqi forces had regained ground east of the city since launching a counteroffensive on Saturday, and on Monday has retaken parts of al-Tash, [nearly 12 miles] south of Ramadi, which lies only a short distance from Baghdad,” reports Al Jazeera.
“Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the Iraqi security forces and Hashd al-Shaabi militia now had ISIS surrounded in Ramadi,” adds CNN. “The joint forces have also managed to cut off all strategic roads used by ISIS for resupply, it said.”
In Syria, the country’s military launched airstrikes on Monday, targeting ISIS jihadists in the ancient city of Palmyra.
“ISIL has reportedly killed hundreds of people since it moved into the Palmyra area 10 days ago, and its occupation of the city has raised fears that its fighters will destroy its famed Roman ruins,” notes Al Jazeera.
“Syrian state TV reported that about 400 civilians had been killed by the group since Wednesday, while activists in Palmyra said ISIL fighters hunted down President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and loyalists, killing up to 300 of them,” it adds.
The near simultaneous fall of Ramadi and Palmyra prompted criticism of the U.S. strategy against ISIS, which involves an air campaign, without American boots on the ground.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter lashed out at Iraqi forces, telling CNN, they “just showed no will to fight” and accused them of abandoning Ramadi to a much smaller enemy force.
On Monday, Iraq and Iran responded to Carter’s criticism, with an Iranian general saying the U.S. lacked the “will” to fight ISIS.
A spokesman for Saad al-Hadithi, Iraq’s prime minister, indicated that Carter had “incorrect information.”
“Carter was likely given incorrect information because the situation on ground is different,” Hadithi told The Associated Press (AP). “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.”
The spokesman, in statement, reportedly blamed the fall of Ramadi on mismanagement and poor planning by some senior military leaders in charge of the city.
Meanwhile, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, accused the U.S. of allowing ISIS to seize Ramadi.
“Today, in the fight against this dangerous phenomenon, nobody is present except Iran,” he said, reports Haaretz.
The general reportedly added, “Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront [ISIS]: doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it?”
According to Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, the U.S. and Turkey have agreed in “principle” to provide air protection to Syrian rebels being trained and equipped to fight against ISIS, signaling an expansion of U.S. involvement in the conflict.