ISIS fighters have launched a major offensive Thursday, seizing parts of a town in Iraq that is uncomfortably close to a base that housed U.S. military personnel.
According to a report on Fox News, ISIS militants managed to overrun much of the town of al-Baghdadi. The fight took place near an air base where U.S. Marines have been deployed to train Iraqis.
"There was no direct attack on the Al Asad air base," a Defense Department spokesperson told Fox News.
Fox News reported that 320 U.S. Marines were stationed at Al Asad air base, which was a 13-minute drive from al-Baghdadi. Although Reuters noted that the air base hasn't been directly attacked, the spokesperson, identified as Navy Commander Elissa Smith, noted that the base has taken "ineffective indirect fire in the vicinity."
"We continue to support efforts by Iraqi Security Forces, working in conjunction with tribal fighters, directed against ISIL in the province," Smith said.
According to Reuters, ISIS militants besieged the city for months after capturing vast areas of northern and western Iraq last year. Intelligence sources told Reuters that the radical Sunni Islamist militants made their move from two directions earlier in the day and advanced on the town.
Retired Col. Thomas Lynch, a National Defense fellow, told Fox News that the latest report coming out of Iraq "bears watching."
"He stressed that for the fighters to pose a threat to the base, they'd have to get through the perimeter," Fox News wrote. "While 'it's not impossible,' Lynch said, to do it they would have to amass a large number of fighters - which would make them 'vulnerable' to airstrikes."
Fox News reported that the affected area, located in Anbar Province, has been a hot zone of fighting for ISIS. The Pentagon also confirmed to Fox News back in January that U.S. troops at the Al Asad base had been coming under regular mortar fire.
Ghazi Al-Gu'ood, a sheikh from Albu Nimer tribe in Anbar, told NBC News that ISIS fighters burned down a civic building where Iraqis obtain national ID cards and targeted the town's communication towers. Before that, militants managed to take over the town's central police station and other government buildings.
NBC News reported that ISIS fighters pulled off the attack thanks to a sandstorm that grounded Iraqi helicopters and fighter jets. However, the coalition, led by the U.S., did conduct airstrikes on ISIS positions around al-Baghdadi in response to the attack.
The number of casualties on all sides remained unclear, according to NBC News.