Americans were being evacuated Thursday from a major Iraqi air base as Islamic extremists continue to topple cities in the country's north and threatened to advance toward Baghdad. The U.S. Department of State is considering evacuating all U.S. personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Fox News reports that a senior U.S. official confirmed on Thursday that Americans were being evacuated from a base in Balad, which had been one of the largest training missions in Iraq. The U.S. State Department says the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is operating as usual.
On Tuesday, an extremist group known as the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) took control of Mosul, the largest city in Iraq's north, and have since stormed several other key cities in Iraq, including oil-rich Baiji and Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
The Sunni rebels have been around for years, first operating as Al-Qaeda in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In the summer of 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, dubbed the new “Osama Bin Laden” emerged as the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, replacing the former leader killed in an coordinated attack by U.S. and Iraqi military forces.
Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS rebels have challenged several other Sunni Muslim stronghold areas in Western Iraq.
In February, due to the brutal and medieval tactics of the group, al-Qaeda severed all ties with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda worldwide renounced the group's affiliation with al-Qaeda after failing to keep ISIS and its murderous ambitions under control.
" ISIS, Zawahiri's command said, "is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group... does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions."
There are conflicting reports of how significant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's role in the group's transformation into a well-oiled and organized fighting force, depending on who you ask -- ISIS, the U.S. government or Iraqi intelligence officials Some international security experts say they consider al-Baghdadi the most dangerous man in the world.
Iraqi government officials say they have been asking for more than a year for surveillance and armed drones to combat a Sunni insurgency that has gained strength from battlefield successes in neighboring Syria.