Iraq campaign for Tikrit won't have US air strikes

The Iraqi military’s latest attempt to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will not be supported by U.S. air strikes.

The White House on Wednesday said coalition forces are not conducting aerial attacks during the campaign. The assault marks the second attempt by Iraqi forces to recapture the city from ISIS after a failed offensive in June and July 2014.


“U.S. and coalition airstrikes are not taking place in the offensive against Tikrit,” said Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, at a briefing on Wednesday.

Tikrit is a major city in northern Iraq and the hometown of Saddam Hussein, the nation’s former dictator.

Earnest said Iraq’s efforts to reclaim it could provide a blueprint for regaining Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, though he said that campaign will be supported by air strikes from the U.S. and its allies.

“It is a dress rehearsal in that we’d anticipate any operation in Mosul would be led by Iraqi forces and would commence at a time and place at the choosing of Iraqi military leaders,” he said. “I would also anticipate airstrikes would take place in any offensive to retake Mosul.”

The Tikrit offensive comes amid controversy over the plans to take Mosul.

Earlier this month, a senior U.S. Central Command officer revealed details of the administration’s strategy for ousting ISIS from the city.

It estimated five Iraqi brigades – numbering roughly 25,000 fighters – are necessary to dislodge 2,000 ISIS militants. The source added such an offensive could begin as early as April or May.

The official’s remarks suffered harsh rebukes in Congress. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the possible leak “mystifying” and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said she was “mind-boggled” by the move.

Secretary of State John Kerry has also criticized the official. On Sunday, Kerry said the Obama administration would not “advertise” its Mosul strategy in advance.