Hundreds of ISIS militants were killed in a series of U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes Wednesday that targeted two large vehicle convoys fleeing the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, according to U.S. officials.
Officials estimate that at least 250 ISIS fighters were killed in the airstrikes outside Fallujah and that at least 175 vehicles were destroyed in the airstrikes outside both cities.
Over the last two days, U.S. and Iraqi aircraft targeted convoys of fighters as they fled the cities, said Col. Chris Garver, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the military campaign against ISIS.
From Tuesday to Wednesday night, "surveillance and intelligence reports identified one large group of Da'esh vehicles gathering in neighborhoods southwest of Fallujah, west of the Tofaha Bridge," Garver said. Da'esh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
After Iraqi security forces targeted the convoy of ISIS fighters, "Iraqi air force and coalition airstrikes attacked the convoy throughout the night and into Wednesday morning," he said. "We estimate coalition strikes destroyed approximately 55 Da'esh vehicles, and we know the Iraqi security forces destroyed more."
A senior Defense Department official said that, according to early reports, at least 250 ISIS fighters were killed in the airstrikes outside Fallujah. "We're still assessing the strikes and gathering details," but the number of fighters killed is "consistent with our early assessments," the official said.
Later on Wednesday, another large vehicle convoy of ISIS fighters was detected east of Ramadi in the Albu Bali neighborhood. "When strikes from both Iraqi and coalition air hit the convoy, the Da'esh fighters abandoned their vehicles and fled on foot," Garver said.
"We estimate coalition strikes destroyed approximately 120 Da'esh vehicles," he said. "Again, we know the Iraqi security forces destroyed more."
Earlier Wednesday, Garver said Fallujah will soon be turned over to an Iraqi "holding force" of local police and Sunni tribesmen. Iraqi security forces began the offensive to retake the city in late May and were able to do so after a five week battle. Iraqi forces initially encountered significant ISIS resistance, but they made steady progress as they pushed out from the center of the city.
More than 100 airstrikes have been carried out near Fallujah since May 21, according to U.S. officials.