March 30, 2003 – Operation Viking Hammer was a military 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 terrorist as they had occupied parts of Kurdistan. 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 positions were launched on March 21. 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. 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. 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 pursued them and captured the town of Gulp hours ahead of schedule. The majority of the Ansar fighters retreated to the town of Sargat. 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. 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.