Islamic State fighters led a suicide attack on an air base where U.S. and coalition troops are training Iraqi forces after taking a nearby town, the first territorial gain by the militant group in months, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Most of the Islamic State fighters died in the attack, killed either by Iraqi government forces or by detonating their suicide vests, said Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
Rear Adm. Kirby said an estimated 20-25 Islamic State militants were involved in the attack on al-Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province. He said the attack was led by “at least several” suicide bombers, some of whom managed to detonate their bombs and others were killed by Iraqi troops.
“Early indications are that yes, some of them did detonate their vests, detonate themselves,” he said. “And then they were followed by roughly something on the order of 15 or so other fighters.”
It appeared that most, if not all, of the militants were wearing Iraqi uniforms, Rear Adm. Kirby said. No Iraqi or U.S. troops were killed or wounded, Kirby said, and no U.S. troops were involved in the gunfight.
Rear Adm. Kirby said Islamic State fighters had taken control of al-Baghdadi, a town near the al-Asad air base. He said this represented “the first (time) in at least a couple of months, if not more, where they have had any success in taking any new ground.”
It was not clear whether the attackers at al-Asad managed to penetrate the perimeter of the base, which is a sprawling series of compounds. “Information is still coming in,” he said, that may clarify some details.
There are about 400 U.S. troops at the base. Another Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steven Warren, said the U.S. troops were about two miles away, in a different section of the base. U.S. unmanned surveillance aircraft and Army Apache attack helicopters were sent to the scene from Baghdad, but the attack was over before they arrived, so they did not engage in fighting, Warren said.
There are currently nearly 2,600 U.S. forces in Iraq. Of those, about 450 are training Iraqi troops at three bases across the country, including al-Asad. Forces from other coalition countries conduct the training at the fourth site, in the northern city of Irbil.