Iraqi government forces take part in a military operation on the western outskirts of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, 160 kms north of Baghdad, to retake control of the city from jihadists from the Islamic state (IS) group, on March 11, 2015. Iraqi forces entered a northern neighbourhood of Tikrit, marking a new stage in the operation launched 10 days ago to wrest the city back from jihadists, army officers said. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Sunni fighter: Tikrit will be ISIS' graveyard
02:38 - Source: CNN

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"These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision," U.S. general says

Coalition is providing help asked for by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

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.

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.