By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have begun operations in support of Iraqi security forces in Tikrit after a request from the Iraqi government, officials from Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve announced this afternoon.
According to a task force news release, the coalition is now providing direct support to Iraqi security forces conducting operations to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from the city. The joint, combined task force is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and advise and assist support to Iraqi security force headquarters elements to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL, officials said.
Destroying ISIL Strongholds
"These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,” said Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, task force commanding general. “This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit."
At the Pentagon this morning, Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed that the United States is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support over Tikrit, and from these operations providing intelligence to Iraqi security forces.
"At the request of the government of Iraq, coalition forces are providing support to Iraqi security forces as they combat ISIL in and around Tikrit," said Col. Patrick Ryder, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. "To be clear, the coalition is only coordinating with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces; we do not coordinate our operations in any way with Iran or Iranian-backed militias."
Although there's been significant media attention on the stalled Tikrit operation which began March 2, coalition forces have continued to actively make progress against ISIL throughout the area of operations in Iraq and Syria, according to Centcom officials, adding that coalition forces are completing these operations simultaneously and in close coordination with the Iraqis.
Destroying ISIL’s Combat Capability
"Since the beginning of March, coalition forces have conducted more than 300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in support of five separate Iraqi-led operations as well as counter-ISIL operations in Syria,” Ryder said. “We have destroyed a significant portion of ISIL’s combat capability during this period, to include the elimination of more than 800 ISIL fighters, two tanks, 15 armored personnel carriers, 11 indirect fire systems and 10 anti-aircraft systems from the battlefield."
Centcom officials assess that the number of ISIL forces and amount of equipment destroyed over the last three weeks is much larger than what ISIL currently maintains in Tikrit. Through these operations, coalition forces have continued to degrade ISIL's command and control capability, its ability to project combat power, and its ability to resource itself, officials said.
"Coalition airstrikes will provide a unique and decisive enabler for the Iraqi Security Forces as they have elsewhere in Iraq," Ryder said. "We know that ISIL’s position in Tikrit is not going to improve."
Critical Training for Iraqi Forces
In addition to airstrikes, coalition forces also continue to provide critical training to Iraqi security forces, according to Centcom officials. There are currently 4,800 Iraqi troops in training at four building partner capacity sites in Iraq, with 3,000 of those troops entering training three weeks ago.
"We are building their capacity while enabling and supporting their operations throughout the country," Ryder said. "So we are doing a lot, especially in the past three weeks. And we are doing all of this simultaneously and in close coordination with our Iraqi partners."