WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Thursday the United States would deliver 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq as early as next week, 1,000 more than announced on Wednesday, to help Baghdad combat suicide car bombings by Islamic State.
Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the delivery would help Iraq defend against approaching suicide bombers driving vehicles packed with explosives, attacks used by Islamic State militants last weekend to help them seize Ramadi from Iraqi forces.
“This is a good counter to that (type of bombing),” Warren said.
The Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, handed the Baghdad government its most significant setback in a year and exposed the limitations of Iraq’s army and the U.S.-led air strikes against the group.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, said Islamic State had carried out about 30 vehicle suicide bombings to take the Iraqi city.
Warren said the anti-tank weapons would allow the Iraqi forces to destroy approaching suicide car bombers at a distance. Relying on small arms requires disabling the engine or killing the driver, which can be difficult, he said.
Warren said at a Pentagon news briefing that U.S. air cover had not been impeded by the weather during the Islamic State onslaught of Ramadi. His comments came after reports that Islamic State fighters had used a sandstorm to gain an advantage in the siege of Ramadi and that the storm had prevented U.S. warplanes from launching airstrikes.
He acknowledged ongoing efforts to help train Iraqi forces to better communicate requests for air support, including how best to format radio calls and identify their position.
Warren said there was no active consideration of training Iraqis to call in U.S. airstrikes themselves, saying only U.S. forces would do the job of so-called “joint terminal attack controllers” or JTAKs.
“If the (American) JTAK says, ‘Put a bomb there,’ no questions are asked,” he said. “That is not something we are going to delegate to anyone other than Americans. Period.”
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Storey, Toni Reinhold