Residents in Iraq’s western province of Anbar say Islamic State (IS) militants launched a fierce counteroffensive near the city of Ramadi at dawn on April 15, capturing three villages from government forces.
The Associated Press reports that the villages of Sjariyah, Albu-Ghanim, and Soufiya to the east of Ramadi were seized by IS militants before midday on April 15.
In Soufiya, militants bombed a police station and took over a power plant.
Reports say fighting was continuing on the eastern edges of Ramadi about two kilometers from a government building, with government troops being supported by air strikes.
At least 13 members of Iraqi security forces were killed in the violence.
Thousands of families have left Ramadi’s central districts, heading to Habbaniya and the national capital, Baghdad.
Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Tahseen Ibrahim told the Associated Press news agency, "The situation is under control, and the standoff will be resolved in the coming hours."
He added that most of the villagers in the area had fled from their homes amid the fighting.
The battle comes just two days after Iraqi security forces launched an operation aimed at recapturing territory from IS militants northeast of Ramadi in the Bu-Farraj area.
That offensive was part of a larger operation announced by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi last week to retake Anbar Province from the Sunni-led militants.
Abadi met in Washington with President Barack Obama on April 14 to ask from greater U.S. military support.
Obama offered $200 million in humanitarian aid to help civilians displaced by the battle against IS militants there, but declined to say whether Washington would provide Apache helicopters and other weapons to Baghdad that Abadi was seeking.
Obama on April 14 hailed the progress he said the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were making against IS militants, saying the alies were “making serious progress” against the militants.
Noting that Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition had regained about one-fourth of the territory captured by IS militants in Iraq, Obama also praised Abadi for living up to his commitment to make iraq’s government more inclusive with representation from the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
But Obama said the process of pushing back the militants will take a long time.
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Colonel Steve Warren, said on April 13 that the front lines of the territory held by the IS militants was being pushed back in Anbar Province and in northern Iraq.
He said Iraqi security forces and coalition air strikes had “unquestionably inflicted some damage” on IS militants and that the group was “now being slowly pushed back."
The militants captured large swaths of Anbar Province and northern Iraq in June but have lost ground in recent months.
They were dealt a major blow in early April when Iraqi troops aided by U.S.-led coalition air strikes and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias pushed them out of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
But the militants still control a wide swath of land stretching from west and south of the northern town of Sinjar down through Mosul and across Baiji, including the oil refinery there, the country's largest.
Over the past 10 months, the IS group has repeatedly attempted to capture the refinery, some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad.
AFP news agency quoted unidentified officials as saying the militants had seized some of its facilities.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq