U.S. planes begin airstrikes in Tikrit, Iraq

Posted at 10:08 AM, Mar 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-26 10:12:01-04

(CNN) — Airstrikes started Wednesday in Tikrit, where Iraqi and coalition forces are battling to wrest control from ISIS.

“These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,” said Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commanding general of the international coalition, led by the United States.

“This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit,” he said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

At the request of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the coalition is providing “airstrikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and advise and assist support to Iraqi Security Force headquarters elements,” it said.

According to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the first wave of airstrikes was intended to hit about a dozen preplanned targets.

Tikrit, best known to Westerners as the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, fell in June to ISIS, which has captured large areas of Iraq and Syria for what it says is its Islamic caliphate.

On March 1, al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces to retake Tikrit and Salaheddin province.

There have been several failed attempts to recapture Tikrit since the second half of 2014. If Iraq regains control of the city, it could mean that retaking Mosul — a city 10 times bigger — is possible.