Iraqi government forces recaptured Anbar University from the Islamic State militant group Sunday after hours of fierce clashes, provincial officials said, as part of its push to reclaim territory across the embattled province.
The university, located 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of Anbar’s provincial capital, the militant-held city of Ramadi, was under the full control of government forces, which had entered the complex early Sunday amid intense combat with the militant group.
Athal al-Fahdawi, a provincial councilman said a number of buildings in and around the university complex have been badly damaged or destroyed, but that the militants retreated. Another Anbar councilman, Faleh al-Issawi, told The Associated Press that about two dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the clashes. He declined to provide more details.
The Iraqi military launched a large-scale operation this month to retake Anbar province, in which most of the biggest cities are held by the Islamic State group. The loss of Ramadi in mid-May recalled the collapse of Iraqi security forces last summer in the face of the Islamic State group’s blitz into Iraq that saw it capture a third of the country, where it has declared an Islamic caliphate.
A U.S.-led coalition has launched more than 3,000 airstrikes in Iraq, many of them in Anbar province. The fall of Ramadi was the latest defeat on the ground calling into question the Obama administration’s hopes of relying solely on airstrikes to support the Iraqi forces in expelling the extremists.
Government-backed forces, which include the Iraqi military, Shiite militias and Sunni tribes, are also currently assembling around the militant-held city of Fallujah, which was the first major city in Iraq to fall to the militant group in early 2014.
Troubles first began for Anbar University in June 2014 when militants stormed the campus, briefly taking students hostage before withdrawing from the school amid gunfire. Ramadi was long under the protection of the local tribes and government-backed forces, which managed to hold on to the city longer than most others in the province.