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A video screen grab shows an aerial view of a flash of light illuminating Ramadi, Iraq, on Dec. 10, 2015, after tank rounds hit a target.

A video screen grab shows an aerial view of a flash of light illuminating Ramadi, Iraq, on Dec. 10, 2015, after tank rounds hit a target. (Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve)

This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON — U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have killed at least 350 Islamic State militants in the last week as Iraqi security forces pushed deeper into Anbar province’s capital of Ramadi, Army Col. Steve Warren said Thursday.

Airstrikes by the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition and Iraqi security forces have eliminated hundreds of fighters on the ground, said Warren, the Baghdad-based OIR spokesman. Iraqi troops have seized control of most of the western portion of the city up to the Euphrates River, including the Tamim neighborhood to the south and most of the Anbar Operations Center just east of the river.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi police unit has made progress from the east, moving within about four miles of the city’s center, Warren said.

The Iraqi army now will move into an urban fight as it works to wrestle the city’s center from an estimated 600 to 1,000 fighters. That process will be long and difficult, Warren said.

“It’s tricky work,” he said. “You’ve got narrow roads, you’ve got buildings, (the Islamic State group) has had a long time to prepare these buildings … to move without being detected, and of course they’ve booby-trapped and mined the city center significantly.”

The battle to retake Ramadi in the past week has highlighted the Iraqi army’s use of new skills learned during several months with coalition advisers, Warren said. The Iraqis use of combined arms operations – two or more types of units conducting simultaneous missions – against the Islamic State group is “a significant milestone in what we’re doing here.”

For example, in recent days Iraqi tanks were used alongside infantry troops to fire on militant positions in the Tamim neighborhood to provide cover for other Iraqi troops building a berm along a nearby road with armored bulldozers, Warren said. That berm will protect Iraqi units in the area from being attacked by militant-built truck bombs.

“This is significant,” Warren said. “We’re heartened to see Iraqi security forces conducting these combined arms operations.”

While the process to retake Ramadi has moved “disappointingly slow,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday that the recent gains by the Iraqi forces show the U.S. train-and-equip strategy is working.

“The taking of Ramadi, which will occur, is an important step, and we’ll assist it in whatever ways would hasten it and bring it about faster,” Carter said during a news conference at the Pentagon with the Indian minister of defense. “… I’m reluctant to make a time projection. I am certain it will fall, and we will assist in the making of it fall.”

Carter has pledged to provide the Iraqis attack helicopters and additional U.S. advisers, if they request it.

So far, Warren said, such a request has not been made, but the United States has AH-64 Apache helicopters prepared in case they are called upon.

But U.S. troops are not assisting the Iraqis on the front lines, Warren said. They remain stationed at a nearby base within Anbar province.

He also said the Iraqi army has had only one soldier killed in action against the Islamic State during the week’s assault on Ramadi. The troops have been backed by 93 coalition airstrikes in Ramadi since Dec. 1, according to OIR data.

“I think that’s a testament to the training they’ve received. It’s a testament to the airpower, the close air support we’ve been able to provide and to the quality of the equipment we’ve provided,” 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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