Operation Viking Hammer

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Operation Viking Hammer
Part of Kurdistan Islamist Conflict and 2003 invasion of Iraq
Halabja city
DateMarch 28–30, 2003
Around Halabja, Iraq
Result Coalition victory
Ansar al-Islam
Islamic Kurdistan[1][2]
 United States
Commanders and leaders
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Wirya Shafaii
(Ansar commander)
LTC Ken Tovo[3]
Jalal Talabani
600–800 fighters[4] 7,000 Kurds
~40 Americans[5]
Casualties and losses
Ansar al-Islam: 150-200 killed, remainder captured or fled to Iran[6]
Islamic Group of Kurdistan: 100 killed[7]
30 killed, 23 wounded[8]

Operation Viking Hammer was an unconventional warfare operation during the Iraq War which took place in northern Iraq, commonly known as Iraqi Kurdistan. The goal of the operation was to eliminate the Ansar al-Islam terrorists as they had occupied parts of Kurdistan.


Ansar al-Islam was an Islamist terrorist organization which made its first appearance in Iraqi Kurdistan in December 2001. The group was made up of a combination of Kurdish recruits and Arab veterans of the war in Afghanistan.[6] The group also had non-Kurdish/Arabic members.[10] From 2001 to 2003, they fought against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, carving out an enclave around the town of Halabja which they placed under their control. The CIA also suspected Ansar al-Islam of manufacturing chemical weapons and the poison Ricin in a factory in the town of Sargat.

In addition, at least two other militant Kurdish Islamic groups were operating in the region, and these generally aligned themselves with Ansar al-Islam.[2]

After Turkey had denied the U.S. 4th Infantry Division passage through their borders, the burden of carrying out the northern front of the war in Iraq fell on an ad hoc coalition of Americans to include CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) paramilitary operations officers, Special Forces soldiers from 10th SFG, U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division 2nd Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment and airborne units that parachuted into northern Iraq (however, the 173rd did not take part in Operation Viking Hammer), and Kurdish Peshmerga forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdish Democratic Party.[3] The American forces were designated the Northern Iraq Liaison Element. Before beginning the attack south, the coalition forces first needed to destroy Ansar al-Islam's enclave in order to secure the Kurdish rear areas and free Kurdish forces to take part in the advance southwards.[11][12][13][14]


Ansar al-Islam fighters held a series of mountaintop positions which offered their men a commanding view of the surrounding areas, but also left them vulnerable to air strikes. Cruise missile strikes against Ansar al-Islam camp and surrounding positions were launched in the early hours of March 21, a total of 64 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired as a preparatory barrage.[15] The Americans originally planned to launch a ground attack immediately following the air strikes, but most American forces were not in place. Once more American troops arrived, the date of the attack was set for March 28. The plan called for four lines of advance for the Kurdish forces, with each force accompanied by U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary officers. On the eve of the battle, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, which had been allied with Ansar al-Islam, surrendered after having suffered 100 men killed in the March 21 strikes.[3]

The ground attack consisted of a six-pronged advance, with each prong was composed of several ODAs from 3rd battalion, 10th SFG and upwards of 1,000 Kurdish fighters.[16]

The attack from the south on the morning of the 28th was met with heavy fire from the Ansar defenders. Airstrikes were called in and the defenders routed. The Kurds and US advisors pursued them and captured the town of Gulp hours ahead of schedule. The majority of the Ansar fighters retreated to the town of Sargat.[17] Advancing on Sargat, the Kurds and Americans were pinned down for three hours by mortar and machine gun fire. Unable to call in airstrikes or contact friendly forces due to the deep valley blocking radio signals, the Special Forces soldiers used a Barrett M82 .50 caliber sniper rifle to take out Ansar al-Islam machine gun crews while the Kurds brought up artillery. The combination of artillery support and accurate long-range sniper fire drove the Ansar al-Islam forces from the town. Pursuing Ansar fighters into the hills, American and Kurdish forces were again pinned down by machine gun fire and had to call in more air strikes before darkness put an end to the day's fighting.[18]

During the night, four AC-130 gunships maintained the pressure on the retreating Ansar al-Islam terrorists as they pulled back toward the Iranian border.[19]

The next day, the Americans and Kurds pursued the Ansar al-Islam forces further into the mountains, towards the Iranian border. Many fighters attempted to flee across the border, only to be arrested by the Iranians. Many were sent back across the border and were later captured by Kurdish forces. However, Kurdish sources allege that many Ansar al-Islam fighters were in fact harbored by Iran.[6]


Operation Viking Hammer had eliminated Ansar al-Islam's presence in northern Iraq, and allowed Kurdish units to join the fight against Iraqi troops in northern Iraq.

American intelligence personnel inspected the suspected chemical weapons site in Sargat and discovered traces of Ricin in the ruins, as well as potassium chloride. They also discovered chemical weapons suits, atropine nerve gas antidotes, and manuals on manufacturing chemical weapons, lending credence to the idea that the site was related to the manufacture of chemical weapons and poisons.[20]

In a 2004 US New and World Report article, "A firefight in the mountains", the author states:

"Viking Hammer would go down in the annals of Special Forces history—a battle fought on foot, under sustained fire from an enemy lodged in the mountains, and with minimal artillery and air support."[21]

Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were awarded the Silver Star for their actions around Sargat.[22] Several members of the SAD paramilitary team received CIA's rare Intelligence Star for "extraordinary heroism" in combat.[12][23]

In April 2019, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mick Mulroy praised the role of Kurdish forces in “Operation Viking Hammer,” carried out by the Peshmerga and a small group of special US forces in the earliest stages of the 2003 Iraq war. Once that was accomplished, the Peshmerga became the “northern front against Saddam,” without fearing an attack from their rear by the terrorist group.[24]

Ansar al-Islam would later re-emerge as a group involved in the Iraqi insurgency, but significantly depleted in strength due to this battle.


  1. ^ http://middleeastreference.org.uk/iraqiopposition.html#igk Archived 2007-03-05 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 7 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ The Christian Science Monitor (16 October 2003). "The rise and fall of Ansar al-Islam". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  5. ^ Peltier, Isaac J. "Surrogate Warfare: The Role of U.S. Army Special Forces". p. 35. Archived from the original on 2009-02-11.
  6. ^ a b c The Christian Science Monitor (16 October 2003). "The rise and fall of Ansar al-Islam". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  7. ^ Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 28 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ http://sofrep.com/7160/operation-viking-hammer/#!prettyPhoto[post_content]/10 Killed,13 wounded/
  9. ^ "13". Masters of Chaos (PDF). p. 28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-14.
  10. ^
  11. ^ John Pike. "On Point - The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  12. ^ a b Tucker, Mike; Charles Faddis (2008). Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War inside Iraq. The Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-59921-366-8.
  13. ^ "Charles Faddis "Operation Hotel California" (Lyons Press)". The Diane Rehm Show. 17 October 2008. WAMU. Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  14. ^ Woodward, Bob (2004). Plan of Attack. Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7432-5547-9
  15. ^ Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p. 98-100
  16. ^ Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p. 100
  17. ^ Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 17-18 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 19-24 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p. 101
  20. ^ Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 25-26 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "A firefight in the mountains: Operation Viking Hammer was one for the record books – US News and World Report". Usnews.com. March 28, 2004. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  22. ^ Masters of Chaos, Chapter 13 p. 27-28 Archived 2012-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq – Central Intelligence Agency". Cia.gov. July 2, 2010. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  24. ^ http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/news/ccbc37f1-3955-4a19-a72d-a7c210a6a036

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°11′00″N 45°59′00″E / 35.1833°N 45.9833°E / 35.1833; 45.9833