Yesterday the Iraqi military launched an air assault into the insurgent-held town of Tikrit. At least three helicopters landed at a stadium in Tikrit University, which is about six miles north of the city.
According to Reuters, “the helicopters were shot at as they flew low over the city and landed in a stadium at the city’s university.” One of the helicopters was said to have been shot down.
“One helicopter crash-landed in the stadium. Another left after dropping off troops and a third remained on the ground. Army snipers were positioning themselves on tall buildings in the university complex,” the news agency reported.
Insurgent forces clashed with the Iraqi commandos as they landed. It is unclear if Iraqi troops are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or Ba’aths from the Naqshbandi Army led by Izzat Ibrahim al Duri, Saddam’s former deputy, or a combination of forces. The Naqshbandi Army is said to be occupying much of Tikrit.
Unnamed military officials have claimed that the university is now fully under the control of Iraqi forces. However, another report today from Reuters indicates that Iraqi military helicopters “opened fire” on the university.
Reuters also notes that the Iraqi government and the media have remained silent on the Tikrit operation. This isn’t a good sign. The Iraqi military would certainly be touting the operation as a success if that were the case. Even so, as this article at The Washington Post points out, official claims from Iraq’s military spokesman must be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism.
The Iraqi military’s attempt to take control of an area that cannot be resupplied by ground forces is a risky and potentially costly move. The military already lost one, if not two, helicopters during the initial phase of the operation to deploy forces in Tikrit. ISIS and the Naqshbandi Army will certainly try to shoot down other helicopters attempting to resupply and reinforce the troops on the ground. The Iraqi military is not flush with air assets and pilots capable of flying combat missions.
Additionally, the Iraqi military is sending some of its best forces behind enemy lines, potentially sacrificing them and further eroding the morale of a military that is already demoralized after two divisions of troops melted away as the ISIS and its allies took Mosul and rapidly advanced to the outskirts of Samarra.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.