The Iraqi army on Friday repelled an attack by Islamic State if Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants on an air base in Anbar province housing hundreds of U.S. Marines, Iraqi and U.S, military officials said.
"The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) supported by Coalition surveillance assets defeated the attack, killing all eight attackers," a U.S. military statement said, according to AFP.
The attack on the Ain al-Asad base, where U.S. security forces are training Iraqi troops, was carried out by some 25 ISIS fighters including several suicide bombers, according to the Pentagon.
Some of the bombers evidently detonated their vests, the Pentagon said, cautioning that reports were still preliminary.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters that most of the attackers, some of whom were in Iraqi uniforms, were killed by Iraqi security forces guarding the base. U.S. troops were not involved and Iraqi forces suffered no casualties, he added.
"Coalition forces were several kilometers from the attack and at no stage were they under direct threat from this action," a U.S. defense official said.
ISIS had attacked the Ain al-Asad base and the nearby town of al-Baghdadi on Thursday, leading to sporadic clashes in the town overnight.
Iraq's Defence Ministry said on its website the Iraqi army killed eight assailants near the base, which is about 85 km (50 miles) northwest of Ramadi.
About 320 U.S. Marines are training members of the Iraqi 7th Division at the base, which has been struck by mortar fire on at least one previous occasion since December.
Al-Baghdadi has been besieged for months by ISIS, which captured swathes of northern and western Iraq last year, prompting a campaign of U.S.-led air strikes and the deployment of hundreds of U.S. military advisers to the country.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite Islamist who since taking office in September has promised to support the neglected Sunni minority community, said the army was prioritizing the western Sunni province in its fight against ISIS.
"The Iraqi government and security forces are extremely concerned with Anbar, its defense and the protection of its residents from Daesh," he said on his official Facebook page, using a pejorative acronym for the ultra-radical Sunni group.
An Iraqi military official in Baghdad told Reuters the insurgents had taken advantage of a lull in the air strikes caused by poor weather to launch the offensive, but that weather had since improved.
The U.S. military said the United States and its coalition partners conducted seven air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq between early Thursday and early Friday, including five strikes about 15 km east of Ain al-Asad base.
The Iraqi official said ISIS had been cleared from most of al-Baghdadi, with the remaining fighting centered around a police station.
That conflicted with reports from a tribal leader who said the militants were still in control of much of the town.
Ongoing clashes and poor communications in the area made it difficult to confirm such reports.
[With Reuters]SHOW MORE