The Iraqi military said it has recaptured the western town of Rutba from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The town is located along the militants’ supply route into neighboring Syria, and is considered an essential “support zone” used by the terrorist group to launch attacks in both countries.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Iraqi military’s joint operations command said the Rutba district, 225 miles west of Baghdad, had been “completely liberated,” reported Reuters.
The military failed to elaborate on what that meant, noted the report.
“It said Iraqi forces had raised flags above some buildings, without specifying that they controlled the main government complex,” Reuters pointed out, adding:
The military has pushed the jihadists out of much of the northern and western territories they seized in 2014, but the group still controls large areas and key cities including Mosul, which Iraqi authorities have pledged to retake this year as part of a U.S.-backed strategy to defeat the group.
Rutba is a Sunni-majority town located in Anbar, Iraq’s largest and westernmost province.
Echoing U.S. government and military officials, Maj. Gen. Najm Abdullah al-Jubbouri, the Iraqi commander of the planned offensive to retake Mosul, told Breitbart News that ISIS in Iraq is “weaker than it was three months ago,” thanks to U.S.-led coalition airstrikes targeting the group’s infrastructure.
A wave of attacks in and around Baghdad, many claimed by ISIS, has left more than 200 people dead over the past week.
The attacks show “that morale within the group is down and they will launch any operation in a desperate attempt to show they can still attack,” declared Gen. Jubbouri.
Iraqi counterterrorism troops, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, entered Rutba on Tuesday and seized the al-Intisar district, reported Reuters.
Maj. Gen. Hadi Razij, chief of the Anbar police, is quoted by Reuters as saying that “elite commandos had attacked from the south while police, tribal fighters and the Iraqi army pushed from the north.”
“We managed to liberate Rutba district, eliminating many suicide bombers and car bombs,” Gen. Razji told a state-controlled television station in Iraq.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said ISIS reportedly has up to “several hundred” jihadists in and around Rutba.
The spokesman described the ISIS resistance in the strategic town as “light to moderate,” adding that the Iraqis were still pushing out enemy forces.
Warren indicated that “a lot of the enemy frankly ran away when they saw this force coming.”
“Rutba lies on the main route between Baghdad and Jordan, and opening it will impact the economies of both Iraq and Jordan, and will deny ISIL a critical support zone as well,” said Col. Warren.