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WASHINGTON – Iraqi Security Forces have nearly neutralized the Islamic State’s ability to launch attacks with truck bombs, once a favorite technique of the militant group, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said Tuesday.

Recent data shows only 5 percent of Islamic State vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs, have been effective against Iraqi forces in recent fighting to retake Ramadi from the militant group, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition.

In the past, Warren said the truck bombs had been a highly reliable way for the militants to attack Iraqi positions, effectively causing some level of havoc nearly 99 percent of the time they were deployed.

“The enemy (would) take a vehicle, they’ll bolt on extra pieces of metal around it, they’ll stuff it full of explosives, and they’ll try to drive it into the flank of ISF formation to create confusion and panic and mayhem,” Warren told reporters at the Pentagon in a teleconference. “Early on it was working. That’s exactly what was happening, but the Iraqi Security Forces have adapted.”

Iraqi soldiers have effectively used American- and German-supplied anti-tank weapons – primarily shoulder-fired AT4 systems – to destroy incoming truck bombs, Warren said. But he also credited improved intelligence-gathering with greatly impacting the Islamic State’s ability to use the weapons.

“We’ve gotten better about finding (VBIED factories) from the air, and often we’re able to strike them from there, and … we’ve been very deliberate in our efforts to find and destroy their VBIED factories,” Warren said, adding Iraqi explosive ordinance disposal troops recently destroyed an Islamic State factory near Ramadi that housed 60 improvised explosive devices and at least one VBIED.

“Hitting these VBIED factories, we are seeing an (immediate) impact,” he said. “There’s fewer VBIEDs on the battlefield, and when they do come out they’re not as well-made.”

That’s made it easier for Iraqi soldiers to destroy the trucks and, in many cases, Warren said, it has also led to premature detonations.

“Recently we saw several of them get stuck in the mud, and while (Islamic State militants were) trying to get them out of the mud they detonated,” he said.

Reducing the Islamic State’s ability to use truck bombs has helped the ISF gain ground around Ramadi in recent weeks. Warren said the ISF had gained ground from all sides after about 10,000 troops encircled the city earlier this month. But movement on the capital of Anbar province captured by the Islamic State in May remains slow, impeded largely by the Islamic State’s use of IEDs.

“We’re a long way from over, but what it does mean is that the ISF and this air campaign are beginning to gain some traction,” Warren said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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