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US launches 6 more airstrikes against Islamic State



Despite the execution of American reporter James Foley and the Islamic State's threat to kill more captive Americans, the US is continuing to target the jihadist group that controls large areas of Iraq and Syria. Today the US launched airstrikes "in support of Iraqi Security Force operations, using fighter and attack aircraft to conduct six airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam," US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said in a press release.

"The strikes destroyed or damaged three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL vehicle, and multiple IED emplacements. All aircraft exited the strike area safely," CENTCOM continued.

The US has now "conducted a total of 90 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those 90 strikes, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam."

Iraq has now become one of the hottest active theaters for US forces. The US has conducted more airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 7, when Obama authorized the military to attack the Islamic State, than all airstrikes this year in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia combined.

President Obama has said that he "will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq," and "I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home."

Senator Ben Cardin said that the United States will not serve as Iraq's air force:

"What we will not do is become the Iraqi Air Force," Cardin said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "Obviously we got to be extremely concerned that we're not drawn into that type of military action."

Yet that is exactly what is happening. When President Obama "authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam" on Aug. 14, he permitted the United State military to serve as Iraq's air arm as Iraqi and Kurdish forces went on the offensive in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration should be very explicit about its goals and objectives in Iraq if it wants to retain the support of the American public for an extended period of time. If the goal is to conduct limited airstrikes in the north to help the Iraqi government and the Kurds regain some lost ground with the hopes of containing the Islamic State, then it should say so. If the goal is to further the defeat of the Islamic State by striking in other theaters and possibly putting advisers, forward air controllers, and special operations forces on the ground, then the administration should communicate that as well.

Mission creep, which is exactly what we are witnessing in Iraq today, has a nasty way of making both supporters and detractors wary of the mission. The initial mission was to protect Irbil, US personnel, and support humanitarian operations on Mount Sinjar; it has now expanded to "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense force operations, as well as to protect critical infrastructure," as CENTCOM notes in its press releases.



READER COMMENTS: "US launches 6 more airstrikes against Islamic State"

Posted by Birbal Dhar at August 21, 2014 9:01 PM ET:

Iraq'a air force is a joke. It's like a second hand car dying in it's last days. The US Air Force is the only thing that is effectively killing the Islamic State terrorists. Of course the Kurds are being helped and have re-taken territory, unlike the Shias who have failed miserable in retaking land back, but the problem is that the Islamic State also operates in Syria and has territory in that country. Looks like the US will go into Syria in sometime, not through land but drone attacks and air strikes. In effect, they're going to be allied to the Assad regime, a dictatorship that the US wanted to get rid of. Now it's lumbered with it !!

Posted by Jeff Edelman at August 21, 2014 10:26 PM ET:

As was predictable, the limited action is expanding. BHO has no credibility.

Posted by Manus at August 21, 2014 11:24 PM ET:

Because of what ISIS did with Foley, the American People are currently giving the Administration some slack. There was even a sign held by a Protestor in Ferguson, MO that stated, "Go Kill ISIS."

However, the policy will have to be further defined in the days and weeks ahead; and, it will.

Posted by Bill S at August 22, 2014 12:09 AM ET:

With the war having spread almost entirely over Iraq, and US air strikes being confined largely to the area around the Mosul Dam, it is not acting as Iraq's Air Force. What it is doing is offering some back bone in a limited area where success can be more or less guaranteed. It is sending a message to the Iraqis that they have not been abandoned, but the only way they can ultimately win this war is to organize themselves. Obvious by its' absence was any American air support for the latest Iraqi Army's attempt to retake Takrit. The US is clearly sending a message that it will not use its' air power indiscriminately in a "shock and awe " campaign.

In the coming days, the US air campaign in Iraq and possibly Syria will probably come to resemble, but on a larger scale, the campaign in Yemen: a very selective campaign to degrade the Command and Control structure of the IS.

Posted by Eric at August 22, 2014 2:42 AM ET:

Haider al-Abadi is at least several months away from resolving the governance issues that will allow the Iraqi government to function in a satisfactory manner to rebuild a sunni-shia-kurd coalition. US leaders are exactly right that we cannot answer the phone from Iraq's leadership and send planes at their request.

By default, the US is the only effective air weapons and reconnaissance force in the skies over Iraq, and thus we are the only air force in town, but we are OUR air force, and not Iraq's.

The Peshmerga are effective now. They need arms, supplies, and training, as well as US air support. They do not lack to will to win, and they do not present the US with a security threat arising from questionable loyalties. The Peshmerga present a fatal second front to the ISIS along their northern flanks.

The Iraqi Sunnis are trying to cobble together an effective force tailored on the Awakening union of tribes from 5 years back. They need arms, supplies, and training, as well as US air support. They lack a durable will to win, and they are possessed by numerous competing loyalties which present a serious security threat to US activities and interests.

The Iraqi Shia have the reins of power, an established security apparatus in the Interior Ministry, and what is left of the ISF army and air units. They need supplies, training, and limited US air support. They are crippled by internal struggles for power, by massive corruption, and by infiltration and influence from Iran. They may demonstrate a will to win when ISIS presses the attack on Baghdad and in the southern shia strongholds, but they have been totally ineffective thus far in Salahuddin and Diyala, and have utterly failed to clear the Baghdad belts of strategic ISIS staging areas that threaten Baghdad itself. They present simultaneously a serious security threat to the US and a unique opportunity for the US to threaten the security of Iranian activites in Iraq.

In Syria, its like Chinese algebra. There are assets on the ground, and there are targets for air strikes, beyond that, the Assad government is supported by Russia and Iran both logistically and militarily. We lifted sanctions on Iran for 6 months to support nuclear disarmament talks, and now 8 months later, we need to re-impose them , but lack the political will. So Iran can afford to support Assad and commit Iranian troops and resources to the fight in Syria. Unforgivable lapse in resolve to leverage Iran with sanctions has assured Assad's survival. If Russia invades Ukraine, there will be a window of opportunity for the US to strike Assad's air defenses and command and control assets in Syria, because Russia does not have the resources to cover both theatres at the same time. I have watched Obama piss away every golden opportunity to ruin Assad's future thus far, so I must expect us to waste that opportunity as well. But we should make Syrian skies friendly the moment Russia commits to fighting in the Ukraine, and failure to do so will have a very high cost later, when it becomes necessary because of actions driven by ISIS.

The US will be the decisive player in the Middle East outcomes. Millions of Arabs express strong views but do not commit themselves to the fight for their own future. And so they will have no real say in how the US operates. We have learned, through costly errors, that there are few reliable partners in that sandbox, and we must give a great deal to manage security partnerships with nations that will give back very little, and that will continuously work to undermine the US politically as they work to ensure the US supports their security.

Would it be just awesome to see the oil development in other parts of the world advanced to a point where Middle East production, and Russian production, were no longer a determining factor in oil prices? What a trump card. I am BAFFLED by our lack of effort to bring that into being.

Posted by Will Fenwick at August 22, 2014 10:25 AM ET:

It will be interesting to see how Syrian air defense forces will react to any potential American air intervention into Syria to attack ISIS (whether it be drones or manned aircraft).

Posted by Eric at August 22, 2014 3:02 PM ET:

Eric, two things on your last point. One is that new discoveries in places like the Bakken formation are lower quality hydrocarbons than West Texas Intermediate. Secondly, new production is offset by increased demand from emerging economies.

I am curious about the status of the F-16 deliveries. I don't think they'll do much good in Ft. Worth, Texas, considering the battle is in Iraq. Nevertheless, an F-16 doesn't exactly seem like the ideal COIN aircraft...seems like what the IQAF could really use is attack helicopters or something like the AC-130.

Wasn't the AC-130 predecessor, the AC-47, basically the result of ghetto engineering on the part of American air crews in Vietnam? Like literally just cutting holes in a cargo plane and putting really big guns on board? Curious if any enterprising Iraqis are thinking about doing something like this to their current C-130 fleet.

Posted by foxmulder at August 22, 2014 5:08 PM ET:

US is learning its better to let those in power who keep the peace rather then trying to force them out and ending up with much worse. Egypt, Mubharak was removed and we got the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria, if Bashar is removed, we end up with ISIS. In Libya the Jihadist have taken control. Under Qadaffi things were much quieter for everyone.

Posted by Mike E at August 22, 2014 5:12 PM ET:

To the last poster RE Iraqi airpower.

According to Wikipedia (I know, not totally reliable) the IAF has a number of sensible (lower tech and cheap) counter insurgency aircraft.

Russian delivered SU25s (7)

Lasta95s (20). This is a Serbian turbo prop with two hardpoints for rockets, bombs or guns

Cessna Caravans that can carry two hellfire missiles. (5)

Bell 407 helicopters (12). These can carry rockets and machine guns, I'm not sure if Iraq's are armed

They also have the RQ-12 Raven UAVs for reconnaissance. (12).

Seems like a good mix for what Iraq needs right now. Clearly however a large role by the US would help a lot.

Posted by Craig Thomas at August 28, 2014 1:30 AM ET:

Thanks, Eric, for a great summary.

On your last point, the issue (as alluded to above) is to reduce demand, not just increase supply.

On your second to last point,
a) I don't see how it is anybody's interest to further destabilise Assad. You can see the result of previous misguided efforts has given us ISIS.
On Russia, ironically, the visible US engagement in the mess in Northern Iraq was probably a significant factor in Russia finally pressing ahead with their invasion of Eastern Ukraine, for the same reason you give as the US's opportunity to do something in Syria.

Posted by dmil at August 29, 2014 8:05 PM ET:

stating the obvious effing mess. with current us leadership no viable solutions (best of worst)