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Ramadi Battle Reveals ISIS Tactics
As Anbar province was taken over by ISIS, by early 2015, half of it was theirs. By April, ISIS was nearing the city of Ramadi, a city of 100,000. Some of the city's districts had been infiltrated and were in control of ISIS in the north and southeast.
Defending the city was Iraq's Golden Division, an elite unit; a regular Iraqi division of dubious quality, police forces and tribal police. Even by the most conservative estimates, the Iraqis had at least 6000-8000 men, maybe more. In the past, ISIS has been usually outnumbered in their battles by several thousands, yet, they win. They win by instilling fear into their local population and their reputation of past victories. How else could a city of millions, like Mosul, defended by several Iraqi divisions, simply collapse when attacked by a thousand? ISIS also uses a combination of tactics that also create fear.
By April 27, ISIS was in a position to now attack Ramadi proper and seize it. However, before that could, ISIS sent out a request for the most dedicated fighters from other fronts for a one time deployment, or the big push. Over a course of weeks, hundreds of hardened and dedicated warriors arrived in small groups for this battle. Many of these missions would be one-way only or suicide missions. Most of them traveled from Syria. By early May, ISIS near ready. Among there "secret" weapons were 27 Humvees or trucks turned into a vehicle IED, packed with explosives that when activated was like a small atomic bomb.
The ISIS attack began on May 5th and were repulsed by the Golden Division and Iraqi helicopters, as ISIS tried to cross the bridges over the Euphrates River. The river separated the city. From May 5th to 12th, ISIS was not accomplishing very much and advances were negligible. It was then ISIS changed their tactics on May 13th and sent many snipers infiltrating to where Iraqi police and military units were stationed. These men began to snipe at any Iraqi movements and convoys that resulted in chaos for poorly led men. Fear was instilled in police units and regular Iraqi soldiers. While the Golden Division continued to fight well and still led with confidence, the other components of the Ramadi defense began to falter.
On May 14th, ISIS began to use their secret weapons. First, a single an armored bulldozer was used to clear the blocked roads across the river. The Iraqis having no anti-tank weapons, simply could do nothing but watch for one hour. Once cleared, ISIS drove six vehicle IED's across into the government buildings creating massive destruction that rocked city blocks. According to the BBC, it was like a small atomic bomb. The Iraqi troops were dazed and confused and ISIS fighters poured into the area creating more chaos and fear as dust cleared. With bad Iraqi command, the Golden Division began to fall apart. ISIS continued to use their weapons to very good effect, using another 20 vehicle IED's in the next few days. Iraqi troops had nothing to halt their approach, so, many fled and ran. This kind of event happened in WW1 and during the Russian Civil War when soldiers had nothing to stop tanks. ISIS took the government complex on May 15th and when Iraqi reinforcements were approaching on May 17th, ISIS attacked the convoys with suicide bombers. With so much mayhem and chaos, the commanders of the Golden Division issued the order to retreat as the ISIS flag flew over Ramadi.
What is clear that Ramadi defense failed because the Iraqis had to weapons to stop the vehicle IED's as they approached. The Iraqi command relied on the US for support during the battle, but because of President's policy, it prevented the 122nd A-10 squadron nearby and Apache helicopters from flying to provide support being requested. The air support the Iraqis could provide was too weak. Obviously, the retreat was called because command and control was lost as troops ran and because units were running out of ammunition. While some Iraqi units lack the will to fight, some units will stand and fight like the Golden Division did. Many did not agree with the retreat order, but orders are orders.
The order to retreat for the Golden Division was to save the 1500 men from being surrounded as other Iraqi units fled. As one soldier indicated, they had the will to fight but not without supplies and ammunition that was already low before the battle had started. The force ISIS attacked with numbered less than 600.