BAGHDAD, October 21, 2015 ? The Beiji oil refinery is a crucial piece of infrastructure for Iraq, which made it a target for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Iraqi security forces ? with coalition air support — have wrested the refinery from ISIL, and this has given Iraqi government forces confidence that they can take on the terror group, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today.
Dunford told reporters traveling with him that the capture of the massive refinery by Iraqi forces could be an inflection point for the campaign against ISIL. The chairman visited Irbil and Baghdad today and met with Iraqi, U.S. and coalition leaders. They briefed him on the campaign against the terror group.
Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani said the myth that ISIL is some unbeatable opponent has been broken, Dunford told reporters.
Beiji was a tough battle, said Army Maj. Mike Filanowski, an operations officer with Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve here.
Recapturing the Refinery
In the last three days, a special operations team from the elite Counterterrorism Service spearheaded the attack. The team worked with Iraqi army soldiers, Popular Mobilization Front forces — essentially Shiia security forces — and federal police.
The Iraqi special forces team occupied the southwestern portion of the refinery and launched attacks aided by coalition airstrikes that allowed them to seize the refinery?s perimeter. Around the perimeter are large towers, which Iraqi special forces captured, the major said. The Iraqi forces then expanded their control to some of the urban areas that surround the refinery, and the combined federal police and a Popular Mobilization Front force joined to hold the refinery once the special operations forces troops cleared it.
Iraqi Forces Did the Heavy Lifting
?The people who did the heavy lifting were the Iraqi special forces,? Filanowski said. ?Over the past 72 hours, they not only secured the oil refinery, but also the power plant to the north all the way up to the al-Fatah Bridge. They are currently in the process of clearing ? the Al Bujuwarai neighborhood to the Tigris River.?
It was not without its cost. The Iraqi special operations force lost 12 dead and 30 wounded. Intelligence reports indicate that ISIL had 500 fighters wounded in the operation, Filanowski said.
The interior of the refinery still has dangers. There are isolated snipers and improvised explosive devices in the facility, and all those involved are being very deliberate in clearing the refinery to avoid damaging it any more, Filanowski said.
The major said Iraqi forces are working to secure the facility and extend their victory to other parts of the region.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
By Jim Garamone