WASHINGTON — The more than 8,000 Sunni tribal fighters recruited to join Iraq’s security forces largely did not participate in the battle to retake Ramadi from Islamic State militants, but they will be integral in holding and stabilizing the city as it rebuilds, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
At the peak of the Islamic State group’s hold on Ramadi, which they captured in May 2015, the terror organization had between 800 and 1,000 fighters occupying the city. The loss of Ramadi was blamed, in part, on the Iraqi government’s failure to include Sunni tribes equally in the ranks of its security forces, giving the disenfranchised population little incentive to push back against Islamic State advances in the city.
In June 2015, the United States sent an additional 450 troops to al Taqqadum Air Base just east of Ramadi, to specifically recruit and train Sunni fighters to join the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi army. To date, 8,000 Sunni tribal fighters have been recruited, and 5,000 of them have been trained, said Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
As part of their training regimen, small groups of the Sunni fighters have been cycled through the front lines during the battle for Ramadi and then returned to the training site.
But “they were not, frankly, a significant player in the battle for Ramadi,” Warren said. “They will be significant players in the stabilization and the holding of Ramadi.”
Warren said there were not enough Sunni fighters trained for them to have a major impact on the operations to retake Ramadi.
Sunni fighters and Iraqi federal police forces are now beginning to move into Ramadi’s recaptured downtown to begin forming a stabilization force to hold it after the estimated 10,000 Iraqi security forces and Iraqi army pull back from the circles that they had formed around the city and move to different ongoing operations, such as the efforts to retake Fallujah and Mosul, Warren said.
Once the remaining small pockets of Islamic State fighters are expelled, humanitarian efforts to rebuild the heavily damaged city will begin, he said.
“There’s been significant damage done to that city,” Warren said. “It’s going to take time to rebuild it.”