In an operation reminiscent of the combination of special forces and Northern Alliance troops that was so effective in Afghanistan, Operation Viking Hammer teamed Green Berets and CIA commandos with some 7,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to rout the forces of the militant Ansar al-Islam group, as well as the smaller Islamic Group of Kurdistan, and drive them out of northern Iraq, where they had been preventing the skilled Peshmerga from advancing south toward Baghdad.
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The operation began on March 21, 2003, with an overwhelming display of air power directed against the somewhat exposed mountaintop positions occupied by Ansar al-Islam. The air strikes alone produced the surrender of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, who had already lost 100 fighters.
With American special forces not yet in the area, the ground assault was delayed until March 28. (Turkey had refused permission for U.S. forces to base operations there or even to fly over Turkish airspace, forcing MC-130s to fly men and supplies directly into Bashur in northern Iraq, dodging Iraqi anti-aircraft fire on the way.)
When the attack began, there were four lines of advancing Kurdish forces each accompanied by American special forces. American air support was critical to the effort, though after the conquest of the town of Gulp, advancing forces were pinned down in a deep valley that blocked radio signals as they approached the town of Sargat.
Unable to call for air strikes, the Kurdish and American forces fought valiantly as special forces soldiers used a Barrett M82 .50-caliber sniper rifle to knock out the machine gun positions of Ansar al-Islam while Kurdish forces brought artillery and pushed their way up and into the town.
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Once driven from Sargat, the Ansar fighters were again exposed to punishing air strikes, and on the following day, they were forced to flee.
Some 250 enemy combatants were killed; Kurdish forces had three killed and 23 wounded; American special forces suffered no casualties.
Just The Facts
Dates: March 21–30, 2003
Location: Near Halabja, in northern Iraq
U.S. Forces: Green Berets (U.S. Army Special Forces), CIA SAD commandos
Enemy/Target: Ansar al-Islam and the allied Islamic Group of Kurdistan, two militant Islamist groups in northern Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan
Equipment: Large array of air power including cruise missiles, fighter jets, bombers, and AC-130 gunships