U.S. using Apache helicopters against ISIS in Iraq, defense official says

Story highlights

Four "strikes northeast of Falluja" struck a mortar team and ISIS units, Pentagon says

Official says copters were used because they're precise and Iraqi forces were close

Copters fly lower and are slower than jet fighters, so they're more vulnerable to ground attacks

Given ISIS advances, the official said, there will be more attacks against ISIS targets

Washington CNN  — 

U.S. Apache helicopters struck ISIS targets in Iraq’s Anbar province over the weekend in an effort to push back ISIS forces advancing near Falluja, a senior U.S. defense official said.

The Pentagon did not specify the precise targets when it issued a news release Sunday. Four “strikes northeast of Falluja struck two mortar teams, a large ISIL unit and two small ISIL units,” the release said, using another acronym for ISIS. Fixed-wing aircraft also were part of the mission. But because Iraqi forces were close to ISIS forces, the Apaches were used because they fly low and can strike with precision, the official said.

In Anbar, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Baghdad, “ISIS continues to make advances,” the official said. In Falluja, “Iraqi security forces are struggling to retake territory.” The official described the area as “very much contested with ISIS continuing to make gains.”

The Apaches’ low altitude poses a risk of a surface-to-air attack against the U.S. helicopters. But with ISIS forces in such a populated area, that precision was needed, the official said.

So far, the U.S. doesn’t see ISIS making a direct run for Baghdad, but there is concern that ISIS elements are in the city and around the airport, the official said. That has been the U.S. assessment for some time.

Given ISIS advances, the official said, there will be more attacks against ISIS targets in Anbar, as well as in other contested areas such as along the Turkish border. There will probably be more strikes against mobile and fixed targets in the Kobani area, the official said.

The United States is also still assessing whether it killed Muhsin al-Fadhli, 33, the leader of the Khorasan Group, in the first night of strikes in Syria, the official said. While he has not surfaced publicly or on social media, the U.S. has still not seen sufficient corroborating intelligence, such as evidence of a funeral or martyrdom statements, to conclude that he is dead, the official said.