Both Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants are gearing up for another battle over Ramadi, a top U.S. general said Friday.
"The situation in Ramadi is probably best described as anticipatory, both from an ISF perspective and a Daesh perspective," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley said Friday, using an alternative term for the extremist group.
Intelligence reports suggest the Islamic State forces are preparing for the attack by digging trenches and installing a defensive network of improvised explosive devices, said Weidley, the chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi security forces are mounting "shaping operations" that include "securing logistic lines of communications, securing key road junctions, intersections, key terrain, establishing logistics areas, finalizing planning, rehearsals, preparing equipment [and] collecting intelligence."
Weidley spoke via video link with reporters at the Pentagon and offered an upbeat assessment of the fight against Islamic State militants.
The militants' victory in Ramadi on May 17 prompted President Obama to authorize an additional 450 American troops to deploy to Iraq, bringing the current U.S. force cap there up to 3,550.
A key new component of the U.S. strategy in Iraq includes a "tribal engagement platform" at Taquaddum Air Base, located between the Islamic State strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah. That mission aims to help organize anti-IS Sunni tribal fighters and help the regular Iraqi Army to coordinate with those tribal units.
"We have established a node [of U.S. forces at Taqaddum] and they can provide advice and assistance and coordination and the ability to integrate the power of the coalition with the Iraqi operations center and tribal forces who are located at that same location," Weidley said.
A cadre of about 500 Sunni fighters came to Taqaddum recently for an "induction" into a "popular mobilization unit" loyal to the Iraqi government, and those Sunni recruits were paid a salary and given military equipment, Weidley said.
The U.S. forces at Taqaddum will conduct their advise-and-assist mission inside the perimeter of that installation. They will be providing train-the-trainer-style support for Sunni tribes.
"We provide the expertise to the tribal trainers and then the tribal trainers will go ahead and conduct training with their individual forces. Those subject-matter exchanges have already commenced at Taqaddum," Weidley said.
The U.S. troops are not involved in the vetting of Sunni fighters to ensure their capability or loyalty; that is a task handled by the Iraqis, Weidley said.
Despite the Islamic State group's victory in Ramadi, which Weidley described as a "setback," the Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal fighters are making progress in Anbar, Weidley said.
"We see successful tribal operations out in the Euphrates River valley in the vicinity of Baghdadi and Haditha. We see additional ISF activities in and around Karma [near Falluja] which are yielding success," he said.
"We see great things happening out there."