WASHINGTON – An attempt by 20 to 25 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters to attack al Asad Air Base in Iraq was repulsed by “ready and able” Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon press secretary said today.
“The attempted attack was led, we believe, by at least several … suicide attackers,” Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. Early indications are that some of the attackers did detonate their vests, he noted, and the suicide attackers were followed by a second wave of about 15 fighters.
The admiral said the fighters reached the perimeter of the base, located in the Anbar province in western Iraq. “They were immediately engaged by members of the Iraqi army — the 7th Infantry of the Iraqi army,” he added.
No coalition forces were injured in the attack, nor is there indication of Iraqi casualties, Kirby said.
Al Asad is a sprawling facility, he said. “It’s basically a base of many, many bases inside. And at no time were U.S. troops anywhere near the fighting — at least a couple of miles away. So, they might’ve heard shots being fired, but that would’ve been about it,” the admiral said.
U.S. troops are at al Asad as part of the train, advise and assist mission, Kirby said. He said that if the troops were to come under fire, they are authorized and equipped to defend themselves.
Iraqi Troops Pressure ISIL
In one of their first successes in months, Kirby said, earlier this week ISIL forces took the town of al Baghdadi, also in Anbar province. But, he noted, Iraqi security forces continue to operate throughout the region, putting pressure on ISIL forces.
“Nobody has underestimated, and we’ve all been very honest about the continued threat that this group poses, which is why we have to take it so seriously, which is why this advise and assist mission is so important,” the admiral said.
“When you look at what happened today, I think it proves that Iraqi security forces can fight effectively and can defend territory and ground when they’re ready and they’re able. And in this case, they were ready and able,” he said.
ISIL Steals to Survive
It’s important to keep the events in Anbar in perspective, Kirby said. The list released earlier this week by U.S. Central Command of destroyed ISIL equipment and vehicles is significant given ISIL’s limited ability to reconstitute their supplies.
“It’s not like they’ve got, you know, a ready supply chain of armored personnel carriers just streaming across, and, you know, manufacturing capability to replace this stuff,” the admiral said. “It’s not like they’ve got a team full of mechanics that can keep them running after they’ve been hit and broken.”
Kirby added, “These guys steal to survive. I mean, one of their chief sources of income is stolen money. They just move into an area and basically rob banks. And that’s how they get a lot of their money. And when they’re not capturing new territory, they’re not robbing a whole lot of new banks.
“So there’s a shelf life here on their material capability,” he continued. “They do not have the ability to reconstitute strength the way a normal armed force would.”