REUTERS - Iraqi security forces backed by coalition warplanes repelled two major Islamic State offensives this week in combat that showed Iraqi troops increasingly are becoming "solid fighting forces," a U.S. military official said on Friday.
In the most significant Islamic State military operation in Iraq in seven months, a battalion-sized unit of some 500 Islamic State militants attacked the Kurdish forward line in northern Iraq, penetrating it in three locations before being stopped and repelled, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren told a briefing.
The attack came a day after a company-sized unit of Islamic State fighters using truck bombs tried to break through Iraqi lines to Ramadi, briefly seizing the city's Palestine bridge before being stopped and repelled, said Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition.
"In each place ISIL was able to muster an offensive effort, which tells us that they've still got some fight left in them. However, and much more importantly, in each fight Iraqi forces were able to rebuff ISIL's efforts," Warren told a Pentagon teleconference, using an acronym for Islamic State.
"This is still a war ... so we shouldn't be Pollyanna-ish about that," he added. "On the other hand, what this tells us also is that the forces we're aligned with ... are now becoming solid fighting forces."
The fight in northern Iraq began at 4:17 p.m. local time on Wednesday when Islamic State fighters in small groups using filtration tactics opened fire with rockets on a peshmerga position near the village of Bashiqa, not far from the town of Tal Aswad, Warren said.
The rocket fire kicked off the attack by a battalion-sized force of fighters that temporarily broke through the Kurdish lines at Tal Aswad, Bashiqa and Nawaran using construction vehicles like excavators to breach berms and other defensive positions, he said.
Warplanes from five coalition countries responded with overnight air strikes, dropping about 100 precision munitions that destroyed the construction vehicles, killed nearly 200 militants and slowed the attack until peshmerga forces regrouped and repelled them the following morning, Warren said.
Canadian forces at a headquarters unit several miles behind the Kurdish lines contributed mortar fire to help the peshmerga stop the Islamic State fighters, Warren said. While U.S. forces are advising the peshmerga in some areas, they were 15 miles (25 km) or more from this fight, he added.
"This is the most significant attack that the enemy has been able to mount, really since Ramadi (was captured in May). And if this is all they've got, things are going to begin to get worse and worse for this enemy," Warren said.
The initial Islamic State attack on Ramadi on Tuesday morning broke through Iraqi defenses on the Palestine bridge north of the city, opening the way toward the military's Anbar operations center, Warren said.
But Iraqi troops were able to regroup, stop the attack and destroy Islamic State's truck bombs before they could damage the operations center, Warren said. With coalition air support, they were able to counterattack and regain control of the bridge. Some 59 Islamic State fighters were killed.
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