US Providing Surveillance Flights Over Tikrit, Air Dropping Job Applications
Unknown which side is getting the intel from the flights.
The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group has begun surveillance flights over the northern Iraqi town of Tikrit, a senior coalition official said Tuesday, marking the first time the alliance has taken part in a major offensive there that is being spearheaded by Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
The official said the flights and intelligence sharing began Saturday and were requested by the Iraqi government. He declined to comment on whether the coalition was carrying out airstrikes, saying he cannot discuss current or future operations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Up to now the offensive to take back Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, has largely has been waged by Iraqi troops and Shiite militias advised by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The coalition official declined to discuss whether U.S. forces were directly communicating with Iranians on the ground there.
Both the U.S. and Iran view the Islamic State group as a major threat but insist they are not coordinating their actions. The U.S. had previously said it was not taking part in the Tikrit offensive because it had received no request to do so from Baghdad.
The U.S.-led air campaign, launched in August, has allowed Iraqi forces to halt the IS group’s advance and claw back some of the territory it seized last summer.
But the growing Iranian presence on the ground has complicated the mission, with Washington refusing to work directly with a country it views as a regional menace. The prominent role of the Shiite militias in the fight to retake Tikrit and other parts of Iraq’s Sunni heartland has meanwhile raised concerns that the offensive could deepen the country’s sectarian divide and drive Sunnis into the arms of the Islamic State group.[…]
The Tikrit operation is the largest to date and requires careful air and ground coordination in order to minimize civilian casualties and damage to the city’s infrastructure.
Iraqi security forces and allied militias surrounded Tikrit and entered some northern and southern neighborhoods earlier this month. But the offensive has since been hindered by roadside bombs and snipers, and Iraqi officials say they will not rush a final assault.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Tuesday that the Iraqi ground operation against the Islamic State group has “stalled” and that the Tikrit operation “has not moved forward recently.”
“They certainly have not given up,” he added. “I think the difference is, after you’ve been static for about a week you’re stalled.” More