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US airstrikes at Mosul Dam likely offensive in nature



US Central Command issued a press release on US airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Mosul on Saturday; the full press release is below:

US military forces continued to attack ISIL [Islamic State] terrorists in Iraq Saturday (Iraq time), with a mix of fighter and remotely piloted aircraft successfully conducting airstrikes near Irbil and the Mosul Dam.

US Central Command conducted these strikes under authority to support humanitarian efforts in Iraq, as well as to protect US. personnel and facilities.

The nine airstrikes conducted thus far destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle.

All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.

The US airstrikes near the Mosul Dam on Saturday were likely offensive in nature, in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga attempting to retake the strategic dam. A senior Kurdish commander has said as much.

Islamic State fighters at the Mosul Dam are neither directly threatening US personnel in Irbil, nor are they impeding the humanitarian mission on Mount Sinjar.

If the US military is going on the offensive against the Islamic State in northern Iraq to support the Peshmerga retaking areas lost in early August, then the US government should say as much. President Obama has stated that the US would not reengage in Iraq except to protect US personnel and support relief operations on Mount Sinjar. If the mission has changed, the American public should be given an explanation as to why.

Updated Aug. 18

President Obama issued a War Powers Resolution Authorization letter to Congress yesterday, the full text is below. The administration claims that possible destruction of the dam could threaten US personnel in Baghdad. Keep in mind that the Islamic State controls several dams in Iraq and Syria, and has yet to destroy one, likely because it views the infrastructure as critical to running its state. However the Mosul Dam is in disrepair.

On August 14, 2014, I authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam. These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site, as part of their ongoing campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace. Pursuant to this authorization, on the evening of August 15, 2014, U.S. military forces commenced targeted airstrike operations in Iraq.

I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. These actions are being undertaken in coordination with the Iraqi government.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148). I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.



READER COMMENTS: "US airstrikes at Mosul Dam likely offensive in nature"

Posted by BB at August 17, 2014 1:52 PM ET:

Seems like a tick for tack. They killed a lot of civilian... here is the punishment.

If they know that they will be bombed every time they start killing masive number of civilians they may even get the messag and change tactics.

Anyway, O won't drop any tear for the Islamic State

Posted by 2Pop at August 17, 2014 3:17 PM ET:

Footage shows aerial bombing of an empty Toyota tundra pickup.

Posted by reader at August 17, 2014 3:18 PM ET:

I think you could make an argument that ISIS controlling the dam in Mosul threatens US personnel in Baghdad, either at the Embassy or wherever our military 'advisers' are based. A breach could flood large parts of the city, possibly endangering out troops depending on where they're based.

But I generally agree with your point. Once the dam is back in Iraqi government hands it's hard to argue that strikes not contained to Irbil or the outskirts of Baghdad will be hard to defend without redefining the mission.

I also don't see how the Iraqi government or the Peshmerga retake any major city without US air power. Maybe they're just waiting till they form a new government to announce we'll be providing offensive air for the Iraqi Army under their direction.

Posted by RanaSahib at August 17, 2014 3:23 PM ET:

Whether or not the U.S. has resumed the offensive in Iraq and publicizes this fact is a moot point. This war has been going on in some way or form regardless of semantics.

Posted by anan at August 17, 2014 4:18 PM ET:

The Iraqi Army and Peshmerga are jointly launching offensive attacks in several locations, including near the Mosul Dam. This suggests at least one of the following:
1) The Iraqi Army never fully folded in the North
2) The Iraqi Army is flying into airports in Kurdistan to reinforce the north


Expect a major joint Peshmerga/ISF offensive to link up with the remnants of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division trapped in Tal Afar.

If I were PM Haider al-Abadi, I would ask President Obama to use US C130s and C17s to fly ISF up from Basrah airport to airports in Kurdistan. Then jointly with the Peshmerga, launch an offensive to retake Tal Afar airport, Sinjar, and Tal Afar proper.

PM Harder al-Abadi should also sharply increase the number of ISF training seats to over 100 thousand; and ensure that Kurds and Sunni Arabs are well represented among new ISF trainees.

PM Haider al-Abadi needs to publicly and directly ask the UN Security Council and major global powers for international trainers to assist the Iraqi Training and Doctrine Command or ITDC.

Posted by kush dragon at August 17, 2014 4:22 PM ET:

The thinking here is that the so called "Islamic State" has yet to fully control the dam to the point where they can destroy it. The dam is such a strategic target and presents such an opportunity for ISIS chaos that Obama/the military would rather engage in some mission creep now than have to put out dozens of fires once ISIS either blows the dam or uses it as a weapon to cause flooding or droughts.

I personally agree with you that Obama ought to make this clear, but to be fair every president since FDR has abused their war making powers to some extent.

Posted by anan at August 17, 2014 4:25 PM ET:

Bill, the reason the mission has changed is obvious. Iraq is very close to a multi-sectarian multi-ethnic national unity government. The Iraqi Army and Peshmerga are now fighting side by side in joint military operations.

DoD and State have repeatedly and publicly said that the US would provide additional embedded advisers, combat enablers (ISR, C2, signals, medical, logistics, CAS), and equipment if the Iraqis created a national unity government with significant Sunni Arab outreach. The Sunni Arabs in parliament have almost unanimously asked for American help.

Posted by Sp at August 17, 2014 7:00 PM ET:

Maybe if ol'man bush had backed the Kurds after the First attack on Iraq we wouldn't be HAVING to help them now.
Bet that little tidbit got forgotten.

Posted by pre-Boomer Marine brat at August 17, 2014 8:43 PM ET:

Regarding the Pentagon's obvious stretch for justification (as if any is needed) for the air operations:

Two things are possible. The military is acting without authorization from the C-in-C, -or- a staffer in the WH is acting "on his behalf."

There is a theoretical third. Obama could have ordered the airstrikes, but that does not fit with his previous patterns of disinterest and inaction.

IMHO, #2 is the most likely.

Posted by Bill S. at August 18, 2014 12:52 AM ET:

The air attacks are still highly selective. Like Yemen or the NW Agency, they are aimed quite specific and limited targets. In Yemen and the NW agency, it's aimed at individuals, presumably Command and Control. In Iraq, it's aimed mainly at vehicles IS has acquired. Basically it puts important pressure on choke points and does some real damage, but doesn't suck the US into becoming the Iraqi Air Force. That's their problem, and let them figure it out on their own.

Posted by Jeff at August 18, 2014 9:15 AM ET:

I don't really care about all of the bureaucratic nonsense. I believe we should use every capability at our disposal to destroy ISIS/ISIL in place before their extremist cancer can do any more damage to the Middle East. I'm ready for the "Good Ol' Days" when we only had Iran and Palestine to worry about!

Posted by Eric at August 18, 2014 12:58 PM ET:

I'm taking Obama's War Power Authzn letter to congress at face value. Obama has people telling him that ISIS blowing that dam or cutting off water to Baghdad makes our Embassy mission untenable. He authorizes our forces to protect it. There is surely plenty more to it. Haider al-Abadi is keen to step off some joint operations on the right foot. Obama already holds a justification in his hands, and sees dual incentives...sure why not?

Obama waited until Yazidis were being slaughtered to pick his moment to get us into the airstrikes game with minimal blow-back. I thinks he wants to avoid making any statements that characterize the US mission accurately, as your article calls for. He covered his bases with a letter clarifying his knowledge of and his findings for. We got into the action as innocuosly as we could have hoped for, and we are counting on ISIS appetite for destruction to keep the justifications coming.

Strategically, there need never be an end to this CAS mission. ISIS is sandwiched in between the ISF to the south and the PUK to the north. ISIS main arteries of communication are the Euphrates and Tigris river corridors. They will always be threatened from both sides, and so they must attack the PUK to survive as a caliphate. When the Haider al-Abadi gets his governance issues settled, he can formally request a larger US air support mission through the UN. ISF must be rebuilt after being gutted by Nouri al-Maliki. Is it too soon to expect that to begin in earnest? I think so. ISF rolling up the ISIS? Not this year. But once Iraq has gone through the necessary steps to enlist US air support, a lot of things can happen along the river corridors with only a handful of the right people on the ground there.

Posted by Kent Gatewood at August 18, 2014 5:27 PM ET:

Do special operators working for the CIA count as "boots?"

Posted by Geoffrey Britain at August 19, 2014 1:00 PM ET:

"If the mission has changed, the American public should be given an explanation as to why."

It's been long established that "the most transparent administration in history" is... not. Expectations regarding a change in transparency are doomed to disappointment for at this point, why would Obama change?

Posted by Evan at August 19, 2014 1:24 PM ET:

I support the use of American air power used in conjunction with Peshmerga and Iraqi "SWAT," units on the ground to kill as many IS terrorists as possible.

The attrition rate in this conflict, at least on our side, is and should remain drastically disproportionate...
We can literally slaughter them at will, day or night, whenever we choose too. And I'm here saying that I think a good number of Americans could support that mission...
Obviously, the scope of the current mission would have to be redefined as argued in previous comments by others on this thread, but once it was, and as long as the Iraqis continue to make progress towards establishing an inclusive unity government, I think that we should do everything that we can, with regards to American air power and also logistical/intel assets, to help the Iraqis' and destroy the IS now. As in right now, not later on down the road.

Also, I understand the concern that people have about being sucked in to an ever widening conflict, that at some point inevitably requires boots on the ground to finish the job, and I just want to say, don't worry. And that there are boots on the ground technically. Mostly in the form of tactical/technical advisors, and I'm confident that with the guarentee of American air power, the IA, and the Peshmerga working together will be ablel to defeat IS, in Iraq at least....

Posted by blert at August 19, 2014 1:34 PM ET:

Kent:

CIA assets and mercs are never tabulated as DoD assets.

It's also the case that all clandestine missions (SEALS) are zeroed out in public admissions.

More generally, irregular operations are routinely kept 'off the books.' Sometimes these gambits make their way to the silver screen: "The Sea Wolves" -- Peck, Moore and Niven. (1980) Decades after the affair, Britain still would not admit the obvious.

FDR initiated a slew of gambits to induce Japan to attack America -- as a backdoor mechanism to get America into the fight before it was too late. Some were pretty 'sketchy.' Official Washington STILL denies that FDR launched them. For example the initiating instructions for the Flying Tigers were wholly UN Constitutional. FDR was crafting a mercenary army for the Chinese. (!) Fortunately for all concerned, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor before any of the Flying Tigers entered combat. At the time no-one inquired as to how all those USAAF pilots managed to get to Asia so quickly.

All of which is a long way around to conclude that the President's 'boot count' is a public relations exercise. Obviously, it sticks in his craw that he is having to re-engage with Iraq, militarily, at all. As recently as 2012 the President was confident that everything was well in hand.

But ever since 9-11-2012 things have gone straight down hill, PR wise.

August is NOT a campaigning month in Arabia. Look to see interesting events one-hundred days from now. In the meantime, all of the players are building up their forces.

Al-Baghdadi appears to be the godfather of Kurdistan. His abortive offensive against the Kurds is compelling the better part of NATO to directly equip that faction. This is something that the President has shunned all this time.

This move is currently being staffed by CIA agents in the field. (Kurdistan) So, they are obviously in place, even now.


Posted by TallDave at August 19, 2014 2:55 PM ET:

Obama's policy is nonsensical. SO and air power can back ISF with little risk to American forces, and probably ould have deterred ISIS' expansion to begin with. Very shameful.

Posted by Will Fenwick at August 19, 2014 7:05 PM ET:

The whole "boots on the ground" term is complete nonsense in the first place. In virtually any conflict that has seen the deployment of American advisers, those advisers have eventually become involved in ground combat operations of some sort. For example in the El Salvador Civil War the US government did not consider the few hundred US advisers there to be "boots on the ground" yet they still engaged in combat operations, for example when the bases they were deployed at were in danger of being overrun. Well over a dozen American military personnel were killed in action during the conflict despite there being no "boots" on the ground.

Posted by Abu Adam at August 23, 2014 12:39 PM ET:

In spite of its huge military presence and military sophistication, the US was not able to defeat the Taliban (who control and rule much of Afghanistan today). In fact, the US has pretty much stopped fighting in Afghanistan, and is clearly retreating, while its enemies are still there and still fighting and controlling territory and resources. The US government's stated goal in Afghanistan has not been achieved. For all intents and purposes, this is a defeat for the US, regardless of the mainstream media manipulates this reality. The same applies to Iraq in almost every aspect. The US has been unable to defeat or even contain Al-Qaeda and others, as we can witness from the facts on the ground today. Therefore, it is not difficult to conclude that the US and its allies cannot defeat or even contain the Islamic State in Iraq or elsewhere. In fact, the US's recent desperate and feeble efforts to show the world it can do something is only creating more momentum against itself and its "friends" in the region. It is not difficult to conclude that the US is essentially defeated power that has become irrelevant and insignificant in the Middle East and the muslim world. The sooner it realizes this, the better off the rest of the world will be.