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US launches air strikes in Tikrit

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it had launched air strikes in and around Tikrit to oust Islamic State militants from the Iraqi town.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the strikes were launched at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and America’s Nato allies also participated in the offensive.

“These strikes were designed to destroy ISIL (IS) strongholds with precision – protecting innocent Iraqis by minimising damage to infrastructure,” Ms Psaki said.

The strikes, she said, also aimed at enabling Iraqi forces to continue offensive operations against the so-called Islamic State in the vicinity of Tikrit.

The US media, however, noted that the United States decided to launch the strikes after the Iranian-backed Shia militias failed to evict the IS militants after three weeks of intense fighting.

Before Thursday, the US-led coalition had conducted 2,967 airstrikes against the IS terrorists, 1,678 in Iraq and 1,289 in Syria. These air strikes have had a significant impact – taking out thousands of IS fighters, numerous commanders, nearly 1,500 vehicles and tanks, over 100 artillery and mortar positions, and nearly 3,400 fighting positions, training camps, and bunkers in Iraq and Syria.

Air strikes have also damaged close to 200 oil and gas facilities — infrastructure that in part funds IS terror.

In addition, coalition trainers had begun training Iraqi Army brigades at four sites in Iraq, and coalition advisers had helped them launch more than two-dozen ground operations against IS strongholds across Iraq.

“The cumulative effect of these actions has been enormous. IS can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 per cent of populated areas of Iraqi territory where they once could,” Ms Psaki said.

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