Iraqi forces retook territory near Ramadi from ISIS on Sunday in an effort to advance to the city, which was captured by militants a week earlier, according to an Iraqi defense official.
ISIS militants raised their black flag over the central Iraqi city last Sunday, sparking questions about the effectiveness of efforts by the U.S. and Iraq to fight the terror group. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Sunday blamed the fall partially on Iraq forces' "will to fight."
"They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL (ISIS) and defend themselves," Carter told CNN's Barbara Starr in an interview that aired on Sunday's "State of the Union."
Carter said the U.S. and coalition forces could provide Iraqi soldiers with all the training and equipment they need, but they can't be given the willingness to fight ISIS, which is integral in driving out the militants.
"We can't make this happen by ourselves, but we can assist it to happen, and we are counting on the Iraqi people to come behind a multi-sectarian government in Baghdad," Carter said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi's office pushed back against Carter's comments later on Sunday saying they do have the will fight and the failure at Ramadi was an isolated incident.
"What happened in Ramadi was criticized by both PM Al-Abadi, (and) the Minister of Defense, and the government started its own investigation to punish those who neglected their duty," Dr. Sa'ad Al-Hadithi, the Media Director for the Prime Minister told NBC News. "So, we cannot consider one or two failures committed by our forces as a failure of all Iraqi troops."
Shi'ite militias, Iraqi security forces and pro-government Sunni tribal fighters on Sunday liberated Eastern Husaybah, which is five miles east of Ramadi, an Iraqi defense official said.
The move was in part a strategic measure to keep ISIS militants from taking the Al-Habbaniyah military base, about 40 miles east of Ramadi. "Today we regained control over Husaybah and are laying plans to make more advances to push back Daesh fighters further,” local tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. "Today's advance will speed up the clock for a major advance to regain control of Ramadi," he said.
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— Elisha Fieldstadt