US airstrikes against Islamic State continue in northern Iraq
The US launched four more airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq yesterday and today. The strikes targeted Islamic State fighters who were "indiscriminately" attacking minority Yazidis who fled to the Sinjar Mountains after the Islamic State's fighters took control of the city of Sinjar and surrounding towns and villages last week, as well as jihadists near the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
The US Department of Defense said that armored personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the Islamic State were targeted by "[a] mix of US fighters and remotely piloted aircraft" in four separate airstrikes near Sinjar yesterday.
The first strike "destroyed one of two ISIL [Islamic State] armored personnel carriers firing on Yazidi civilians near Sinjar."
In the second strike, the armored personnel (APC) that survived the first strike was tracked, and it was destroyed, along with another APC, and an "armed truck nearby."
In the third strike, yet another APC was identified and destroyed by US aircraft. The Department of Defense did not detail the nature of the fourth airstrike.
Today, "a mix of fighters and remotely piloted vehicles" targeted islamic State vehicles and a mortar pit in five airstrikes as part of an effort to "defend Kurdish forces near Irbil." Three "armed vehicles" and a mortar pit were destroyed and another vehicle was damaged, CENTCOM stated in a press release.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority based primarily in northwestern Iraq, fled to the Sinjar Mountains after Kurdish forces abandoned Sinjar and other areas as Islamic State forces advanced in Ninewa province last week.
The US has also been airlifting humanitarian aid to Yazidis on Mount Sinjar; so far three airdrops of food, water, and other supplies have been made. The US military said that it has "delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yazidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain."
The US launched airstrikes against the Islamic State on Aug. 8, almost immediately after President Barack Obama declared that the US would intervene to prevent an Islamic State advance on the Kurdish capital of Irbil, where US diplomatic personnel and military trainers are based, as well as prevent the slaughter of the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. Obama also indicated that US aircraft could strike in other areas of Iraq if US personnel are in danger. Obama was clear that the US would not deploy ground troops in Iraq. [See Threat Matrix report, Obama authorizes limited airstrikes to protect US personnel in Irbil.]
The US military launched three airstrikes against the Islamic State on Aug. 8. All three strikes targeted units the US military claimed were threatening Irbil. One strike destroyed a towed artillery piece, another hit a convoy of pickup trucks, and the last a mortar pit. Video of the strikes against the towed artillery piece and the pickup trucks was published on US Central Command's YouTube page. [See Threat Matrix reports, US begins airstrikes against Islamic State near Irbil and CENTCOM videos show airstrikes on Islamic State artillery, convoy.]
US now engaging a "jayvee" jihadist group
The military re-engagement in Iraq by the US takes place nearly two months after the Islamic State launched its northern offensive in Iraq and seized control of much of Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. The Islamic State has been in control of most of Anbar province since January, and has also held areas in the north of Babil province since March. The US refused to intervene in Iraq, despite numerous mass executions carried out by Islamic State fighters, many which were documented on the jihadist group's social media pages, until the Islamic State threatened the Kurdish regions and the Yazidis.
The renewed military engagement in Iraq is ironic given Obama's position on the country as well his dismissal of the Islamic State as a local insurgent group. He had campaigned on withdrawing military forces from Iraq before his first term in office and vowed to keep his promise.
President Obama withdrew US troops from Iraq at the end of December 2011 after failing to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government to extend the US military mission in Iraq. Obama refused to allow Prime Minister Nouri al Malki to issue an executive decree to give US forces immunity from Iraqi prosecution; instead Obama wanted Iraq's parliament to ratify a deal. Given the fractious nature of the Iraqi parliament and the sensitivity of the issue of basing US forces in Iraq, it was clear the parliament would never pass such a bill.
Earlier this year, Obama casually referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (the Islamic State's predecessor) and other jihadist groups waging local insurgencies as "the jayvee team" of global jihadist groups.
"The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant," Obama said in an interview with The New Yorker while answering a question on the resurgence of jihadist groups in Iraq. "I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian."
Obama's statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of the goals of global jihadist groups that is prevalent among US policymakers and even many counterterrorism analysts.
Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State seek to impose a global caliphate and enforce sharia, or Islamic law. To achieve their goals, the global jihadist groups commit significant resources to wage local insurgencies and overthrow Muslim governments. These groups train fighters to wage guerrilla wars, and select some of the fighters to conduct terrorist attacks against the West or other countries. These attacks are designed to break the Western countries' will to fight or force them to withdraw military forces or support from Muslim countries. Attacks on Western countries also have the added bonus of generating propaganda victories and increasing recruitment and fundraising. But terrorist attacks against the West are merely a tactic that is used to help jihadist groups achieve their goals of establishing a global caliphate.
For the past year, the Obama administration has rejected direct requests from the Iraqi government to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Now, US officials are describing the Islamic State as a major threat to US national security as well as the region. Brett McGurk, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 23 that the Islamic State is "no longer a terrorist organization. It is a full-blown army."
"It is al Qaeda in its doctrine, ambition and, increasingly, in its threat to U.S. interests," McGurk said.