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U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visits Iraq as Ramadi assault looms

By Andrew V. Pestano
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visits Iraq as Ramadi assault looms
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday while on his trip through the Middle East. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

BAGHDAD, July 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made an unannounced visit to Baghdad Thursday morning as Iraqi and U.S. military officials prepare to launch an assault to take back Ramadi from the Islamic State

Carter is not expected to announce any significant changes to the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State during his first visit to Iraq since replacing former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in February.

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The Islamic State captured Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province, in May. There are up to 2,000 IS militants in Ramadi, who have been setting up defenses such as rigging empty buildings with explosives.

Iraqi security forces, supported by U.S. airstrikes, have been conducting "shaping" and "isolating" operations in preparation of the Ramadi assault, set to begin between one to eight weeks.

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"When conditions are right, we will transition into an assault to seize Ramadi," Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters shortly before Carter arrived in Iraq. "This is classic maneuver warfare."

There are about 3,360 U.S. military troops in Iraq training Iraqi troops, advising Iraqi commanders and providing security for U.S. personnel and facilities.

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"We are beginning to isolate Ramadi from multiple directions," Warren added, "... to place a noose around the city."

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The U.S. State Department last month said the international coalition to defeat IS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, had so far killed an estimated 10,000 IS fighters in Iraq and Syria.

According to United Nations estimates, violence has killed 14,947 civilians in Iraq since the start of 2014 to the end of April 2015, while another 29,189 have been wounded.

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