Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Monday confirmed U.S.-made AH-64 Apache aircraft supplied to Iraqi security forces entered combat in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
During a briefing with reporters while en route to a NATO meeting in Belgium, Carter said the gunship launched an airstrike against ISIS as part of an operation to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city and currently held by militants.
"In the last 24 hours I guess it was, the commanders have used the Apache capability that we positioned there and that the president authorized them to use some months ago when they found an opportunity when that might make a difference," he said. "And that did occur and an ISIL target was destroyed as a consequence of that."
A U.S. defense official said more than one Apache flew during the mission but only one of them fired and struck a vehicle early Monday morning, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. in April announced plans to send more of the Boeing Co.-made attack helicopters and a couple of hundred more troops -- including advisers, force protection and aviation support -- to assist the Iraqi army's 15th Division in repelling ISIS from Mosul, Stars & Stripes has reported.
President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of about 4,000 U.S. troops to Iraq for the campaign against ISIS. He has also approved sending a few hundred special operations forces into Iraq and Syria -- and appears poised to shelve plans to decrease the number American service members in Afghanistan from 9,800 in part because of ISIS threats.
The government of Iraq had once planned to lease six of the helicopters for $1.4 billion and buy 24 more in a deal valued at $4.8 billion, but the deal was delayed amid concerns from some U.S. lawmakers and ultimately allowed to lapse by Iraqi officials themselves after they acknowledged "a lack of trained manpower" to operate the aviation assets, according to a Congressional Research Service report from March.
Carter said the U.S. has previously offered the use of Apaches to Iraqi forces during missions, including the operation late last year to retake Ramadi, and that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the final say in authorizing their deployment.
"Why the Iraqi and U.S. commanders decided to use it was because it -- it could be effective in helping those forces that are positioning themselves for the two-forked envelopment of Mosul," he said.
"This is the first time that it's been called into action, and effectively," Carter added. "But the importance of it is -- the operational importance is the envelopment of Mosul from the south, that's what it was assisting or enabling."