ISIS militants seize western Iraqi town, menace base housing U.S. personnel
WASHINGTON — ISIS militants took full control of a western Iraqi town early Friday, security officials told CNN, bringing them within a few miles of an air base housing U.S. military personnel.
The extremist group took al-Baghdadi, west of Ramadi, and now they’re closing in on the strategic Ayn al-Assad Air Base, only about 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, the security officials said.
Iraqi forces there are calling for reinforcements. A U.S. defense official told CNN that no evacuations have been planned from the base.
That western front is just one of many where ISIS forces are on the move.
CNN’s Phil Black, in northern Iraq, said Friday that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were starting to move from the north toward the city of Sinjar, held by ISIS since the summer.
The militants’ seizure of the city provoked a major humanitarian crisis as its ethnic minority Yazidi population fled onto the rocky slopes of Mount Sinjar, where many became trapped without food and water.
The Kurdish fighters are on the offensive but face a long, difficult battle to win back the city from ISIS, whose fighters are firmly in control there.
ISIS attacked Peshmerga fighters in Sinjar on Thursday, as well as Kurdish forces positioned north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and the town of Ba’shiqa, east of Mosul.
But it’s in Iraq’s west where ISIS militants have the momentum over the Iraqi army and Sunni tribesmen opposing them.
‘No direct threat’ to U.S. personnel
The ISIS fighters seized Al-Baghdadi, northwest of the capital of Baghdad, on Friday after attacking from three directions against Iraqi government forces, the security officials told CNN.
Ayn al-Assad, the largest military base in western Anbar province still under government control, is also where U.S. instructors train Iraqi pilots.
Already, the air base is taking sporadic indirect fire from militants using rocket launchers and mortars, the officials said.
Two security officials in the Anbar provincial office told CNN that security forces inside Ayn al-Assad killed eight suicide bombers Friday who were trying to breach the air base’s perimeter from the direction of Al-Baghdadi.
A statement issued by U.S. Central Command said the attack had been directed against an Iraqi army facility on the base and that the Iraqi forces had killed all eight militants.
“Coalition forces were several kilometers from the attack and at no stage were they under direct threat from this action,” it said.
Almost 800 members of the Iraqi security forces are currently training with international coalition forces at the air base, CENTCOM said
The U.S. defense official said the U.S. troops on the base do not feel as though they are pinned in and are not contemplating engaging ISIS on the ground.
The official reiterated what has been said many times publicly by Pentagon officials: That U.S. forces retain the right to defend themselves if necessary, but at this point there have been no injuries to U.S. forces at the air base and there is no change in status.
From Thursday into Friday, aircraft from the international coalition against ISIS carried out eight airstrikes in Syria and seven in Iraq, CENTCOM said.
Five of the Iraq airstrikes targeted ISIS units and equipment near Ayn al-Assad. The other two attacked targets near Mosul and Sinjar.
Captives feature in ISIS magazine
ISIS’ media center this week released the seventh issue of the group’s English-language propaganda magazine, Dabiq.
In it is a piece purportedly written by captive British journalist John Cantlie in which he criticizes what he says is the UK government’s failure to act on his behalf, and urges his family and fiancée to forget him.
“I say thank you, thank you so much for your tireless efforts. But let it go. Leave it be and get on with your lives, all of you,” the writer says.
“What can the remnants of one family, smashed and emotionally exhausted after two years of searching, be expected to do by themselves while the government, so full of intelligence officials, think tanks, and pompous men in suits, sits back impassively and does nothing?”
Cantlie — who was kidnapped in November 2012 and is clearly acting under duress — purportedly says he feels “real anger” toward the UK government.
The online magazine published only a couple of days after ISIS released a video in which Cantlie acts as though he is reporting on Aleppo in Syria. Cantlie, who has appeared in previous ISIS videos, calls this one the “last in this series.”
The latest issue of the magazine also carries a purported interview with a 19-year-old Palestinian man from Jerusalem who is accused of working for the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.
The man, named as Muhammad Said Ismail Musallam, is quoted as saying that he was recruited and trained by Mossad before being sent into Syria to spy on ISIS.
Mossad wanted him to find out where ISIS missiles and other weapons were being stored, where their bases were and the names of any Palestinians who had joined the group, he reportedly said. But he was identified as a spy, confessed under interrogation and is now being held prisoner.
The magazine also features a supposed interview with Hayat Boumeddiene, widow of one of the men involved in terror attacks in Paris last month, and a section on Jordanian pilot Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, who was burned to death by his ISIS captors.