Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militia have retaken the town of Al-Baghdadi, from where jihadists had threatened to attack an airbase housing US troops, the US military has said.
Fighters from the Islamic State group had taken Al-Baghdadi, a small town on the Euphrates River in western Iraq, in February, posing a threat to a nearby base where American forces train their Iraqi counterparts.
A statement from the headquarters of the US-led coalition conducting air strikes in Iraq and Syria against jihadist targets said it had ordered 26 air strikes around the town since February 22.
“Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters from the Anbar region have successfully cleared Al-Baghdadi of ISIL (IS), retaking both the police station and three Euphrates River bridges,” it said.
US ground forces were not directly employed in the battle, but “the coalition supported the operation with surveillance assets and advise and assist teams” attached to Iraqi headquarters units.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces, supported by Sunni tribes and Shiite militias, have begun to push back IS forces from a swathe of territory the jihadists seized last year in their quest to build an Islamist “caliphate.”
The Islamic State group is widely reviled for it brutal tactics — including mass rapes, murders and kidnaps — but concerns have also been raised over sectarian killings by Shiite pro-government forces in recaptured Sunni areas.
On February 13, as Al-Baghdadi was falling to IS fighters, suicide bombers attacked Iraqi forces protecting the nearby Al-Asad air base, where a small contingent of US troops works with Iraqi allies.
No Americans were hurt in the assault but their relative proximity to the fighting increased fears that US ground troops could find themselves drawn into the conflict.