The Iraqi troop pull-out of Ramadi last weekend that allowed the city to fall into ISIS hands may have been the result of a misunderstanding by the senior Iraqi commander in the city, U.S. officials said today.
U.S. officials now believe the senior Iraqi military commander ordered his troops to withdraw because he mistakenly believed that a sandstorm would prevent coalition aircraft from launching airstrikes to support his troops.
That information is one of the reasons why on Wednesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Iraqi troops “drove out” of Ramadi and were not “driven out” out of the city by ISIS.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today that last weekend's sandstorm had not affected the coalition’s ability to launch airstrikes in Ramadi, though “weather was a factor on the ground early on.”
It appears Iraqi forces believed that because of the deteriorating weather conditions “they would not be able to receive air power support," Warren said.
"We are now of the opinion that this was one of the factors that contributed to their decision to reposition out of Ramadi,” he said.
“This appears to have been a unilateral decision by the commander on the ground in Ramadi based on his assessment of the situation that it was time to withdraw,” said Warren.
He said it was unclear if that decision was communicated to the joint operations center in Baghdad where U.S. military teams are embedded with Iraqi commanders. Iraqi military commanders can forward requests for airstrikes to the joint operations center where the U.S. military sends the request to the coalition's air command center.
ISIS had been fighting for control of Ramadi since January 2014, seizing half of the city since then.
In recent weeks, they had seized additional territory inside the city and late last week launched a new offensive that targeted the city's government center by using more than 30 car bombs over a four day span.
To counter ISIS's growing use of car bombs, the U.S. has expedited the delivery of 1,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets that will be shipped to Iraq beginning next week, Warren said.
He described the weapon as ideal for targeting potential suicide car bombers because unlike the precise small arms fire needed to disable a rushing vehicle, the shoulder-fired weapon is easy to use and can destroy an approaching vehicle from a distance.
The Iraqi military forces that had been in Ramadi have now repositioned to Habbaniyah, where the Iraqi government has also sent 3,000 Shiite militia fighters to assist with the fight against ISIS in Anbar Province.