- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2015

The Pentagon acknowledged Monday that the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State terrorists is a setback for residents of the Iraqi city, but it maintained that the terrorist group is on the defense in the broader fight.

Col. Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, said the only impact of the fall of the city on the strategy in the fight against the Islamic State is that Iraqi forces backed by coalition air support will need to retake Ramadi.

“We will retake Ramadi,” he said. “What this means is that we now have to, along with our Iraqi partners, retake Ramadi.”

When asked about the effectiveness of the American-trained Iraqi Security Forces, who reportedly fled from the city and abandoned U.S. vehicles and weapons as the terrorists overpowered them, Col. Warren said it’s significant that Iraqi troops were able to hold off the Islamic State for about a year in Ramadi all while they continue to defend other cities across Iraq.

“I think it’s notable that it took ISIL a year to get this far in Ramadi,” he said.

He also said that Iraqi forces are “slowly but surely improving.” U.S. advisers have trained about 7,000 Iraqi Security Forces, with 3,000 to 4,000 currently going through the training pipeline.

SEE ALSO: Islamic State seizes Ramadi, counters U.S. claim terrorist group on defensive

Ramadi was a key victory for Americans in the Iraq War and, as a result, is a symbolic as well as a tactical win for the Islamic State. Analysts warned that because of the symbolic significance of the city, the Islamic State would be especially motivated to retain the ground it won, setting up a long, difficult battle to retake the city.

Col. Warren declined to give a timeline to win back control of the city, saying the the Iraqi government is in charge of setting priorities for the fight.

On Friday, just days before the Islamic State gained control of the city, Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley told reporters that the terrorist group was on the defensive and unable to congregate in large number to act an as offensive force.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “does remain on the defensive,” he told reporters at the Pentagon via phone from Southwest Asia. “We will see episodic, temporary successes, but again these typically don’t materialize into long-term gains.”

Col. Warren said Monday it’s clear that assessment is not an accurate picture of Islamic State capabilities in Ramadi.

“ISIL is obviously not on the offensive in Ramadi, that’s fairly clear,” he said. “Overall, across the entire breadth and depth of the battlefield, we believe ISIS is on the defensive.”

Col. Warren said the U.S. is not rethinking its strategy and has no plans to put more U.S. boots on the ground. He said officials always expected there to be ebbs and flows in battle, and the setback in Ramadi does not have broader implications for the fight.

“To read too much into this is a mistake. This is one fight,” he said.

Despite that, he said residents of Ramadi have already been forced to witness “trademark ISIL brutality” with the city under terrorist control, including executions and murder.

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