The U.S today launched airstrikes on Tikrit following a request for air support from the Iraqi government to aid the Iraqi offensive to retake the city.
“I can confirm that the government of Iraq has requested (U.S.-led) coalition support for operation in Tikrit,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said. “Operations are ongoing.” (AFP, 25 March)
Other members of the U.S.-led coalition were expected to take part in the airstrikes, U.S. officials said.
Earlier today, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. had already started carrying out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) flights over Tikrit. AFP said the ISR flights had begun over the weekend.
U.S. direct participation in the Battle of Tikrit will add a new dimension to the war against ISIL. Iran-backed coalition of predominately Shia militias and Iraqi security forces, under the command of General Qasem Soleimani, was up to now leading the offensive in Tikrit. The ISR flights and now airstrikes by the U.S. would mean collaboration between the two coalition forces. However, there have not yet been any reaction from Tehran on the U.S. airstrikes on Tikrit.
The Tikrit offensive, which began 2 March, had bogged down in recent days, even though nearly 30,000 Shia militia fighters and Iraqi security forces had outnumbered the ISIL insurgents holed up in the city center. The airstrikes should now soften ISIL defensive positions, allowing the Iraqi forces to enter and retake the city.
File photo: U.S. fighter jets near Mosul Dam to strike ISIL positions; August 2014 (Al Arabiya)