American and Iraqi troops killed at least 23 suspected insurgents and captured at least two others when they attacked a group of fighters who had “gathered on the outskirts of Ramadi to stage a series of large scale attacks,” according to a military news release issued Tuesday.

The fighting took place on Saturday and Sunday in an area about three miles south of the city called Jazeera al Humar, or Donkey Island.

While Ramadi has long been an insurgent stronghold in the heart of Anbar province, U.S. officials over the past several months have reported a dramatic downturn in violence in the city. Military commanders have attributed that success to a group of tribal leaders who have joined forces with American troops to fight hard-core Islamist militants in the area.

But, as the fighting earlier this week underscored, those same military commanders have said rural areas outside the city are possible spots for al-Qaida in Iraq and other fighters to regroup.

The battle began Saturday morning when militants attacked American troops with small-arms and rocket fire.

American and Iraqi troops had earlier received intelligence reports that militants had been gathering to “regain a base of operations in Anbar with suicide car and vest bomb attacks.”

Over the course of the recent battle, U.S. troops called in Apache helicopter gunships, Marine F-18 Hornets and Harrier fighter jets.

According to military officials, when the fighting calmed, U.S. troops found 22 dead insurgents, including seven who were wearing suicide bomb vests.

“Most of the enemy were dressed in similar white dishdashas and white running shoes, an outfit often associated with extremist fighters prepared to kill themselves,” officials said.

As troops continued to search the area, a second attack was mounted by insurgents using machine guns, grenades and suicide attacks. One more insurgent was killed in that engagement.

Helicopter gunships and fighter jets were again called in, destroying what was described as a bunker complex.

Since last year, when 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division-led troops established an ever-greater number of smaller outposts within the city, the situation in Ramadi has improved.

Now, with units under command of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division expanding those bases to include smaller towns outside the city limits, military officials have hoped the city has turned a corner.

The tactics involve sweeping the area clear of insurgents while embedding U.S. troops inside the community. The troops live alongside Iraqi forces, letting them run operations while the Americans provide financial and military support.

In interviews with Stars and Stripes in the spring, 1st Brigade, 3rd ID commander Col. John Charlton said he knows peace and calm can be short-lived in Iraq. While an increasing local police force is an encouraging sign, military officials also know things can reverse course.

“I think what’s promising here is the level of support we have from the local population,” Charlton said in May. “That’s what gives me optimism about the way forward.”

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