Iraqi army troops in Ramadi. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi forces say they are continuing to gain ground in the town of Hit in western Anbar province, where they freed at least 1,000 people held hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS) and coalition airstrikes killed 39 of the militants.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement that its counter-terrorism forces were now in control of four districts in Hit. It added that in one district freed by them, “39 militants were killed and 13 other wounded” in coalition airstrikes.
At least 1,000 residents were freed from ISIS captivity and taken to safety.
The town of Hit is said to be important due to its strategic location: its liberation will pave the way to opening the main road between the Ayn al-Assad military base and the center of Ramadi, a key city in Anbar which the Iraqi Army declared had been liberated in December. However, ISIS is still reported to have pockets of resistance there.
Last week, Iraqi forces took over the town’s police station as they pushed forward, trying to capture the town and sever strategic ISIS supply lines. Civilians were increasingly caught in the crossfire.
ISIS militants are reportedly retreating in several areas and have moved their forces back to their stronghold of Mosul, or towns still under their control in Salahaddin province.
Thousands of people have been escaping the battles and seeking safety among the Iraqi forces or outside the town.