Iraq’s security forces are reeling from last week’s ferocious Islamic State takeover of the capital of Iraq’s largest province and must regroup before even thinking of staging a counterattack, a senior State Department official said Wednesday in the Obama administration’s most sober assessment to date of the battle.

U.S. officials are still “trying to piece together exactly what happened” when Iraqi forces retreated from Ramadi in Anbar province during the Islamic State offensive, said the official, who could not be further identified under the conditions of the briefing he gave reporters. He said the focus now is to “just basically hold together” the Iraqi army’s units that retreated at Ramadi.

The Ramadi outcome underscored how difficult defeating the Islamic State will be, the official said, repeating the Obama administration’s warning that it will require years of effort.

For one thing, the official said, the Islamic State is an enemy like no other, with an estimated 22,000 fighters from 100 countries – twice as big as and far more diverse than the forces that flooded Afghanistan over a decade to battle the Soviet Union there.

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