The U.S. military is encouraging Iraqi forces to make a final push to recapture Ramadi from Islamic State militants who seized the Anbar provincial capital in May, a spokesman said October 13.
Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing IS in Syria and Iraq, said Iraqi security forces are well placed to recapture the city, which is located about 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Iraqi ground forces have advanced about nine miles in recent days and are in the city's outer suburbs. They have "essentially encircled the city," and are "squeezing in" from four directions, Warren said.
"We now believe that battlefield conditions are set for [Iraqi forces] to push into the city," Warren told journalists in a video briefing at the Pentagon.
The loss of Ramadi was the most damaging Iraqi setback this year. IS in 2014 captured the northern city of Mosul and still controls much of northern and western Iraq despite more than a year of U.S. air strikes.
Warren two weeks ago conceded that the fight to reclaim Ramadi was in an "operational pause" for the summer, in part because of record high temperatures and the unexpected strength of IS defenses, including minefields.
But since the slow-moving counteroffensive began in July, he said the United States has conducted 292 airstrikes around Ramadi and these killed "hundreds" of IS fighters as well as destroyed mortar positions, vehicle-borne explosive devices, heavy machine guns, and sniper positions.
That has laid the groundwork for a final assault, he said.
Iraqi forces total about 10,000. Warren estimated between 600 and 1,000 IS fighters remain in Ramadi and suggested the city might come to be viewed as a high-water mark for the group.
The extremists "have not gained an inch of territory in Iraq since Ramadi," he said.
"All they have done is hunker down and watch while their friends get killed from the air or from the ground. So I think we are having an impact."
With reporting by AP and AFP