US airpower supports Peshmerga, Iraqi forces to retake Mosul Dam

The US military is launching airstrikes in support of the recent push by Iraqi special forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga to retake the Mosul Dam and surrounding towns lost to the Islamic State earlier this month. Invoking the War Powers Act, President Barack Obama said the strikes, which “will be limited in their scope and duration,” are designed to protect US personnel based hundreds of miles downriver from the Mosul Dam.

The US airstrikes near the dam started on Aug. 16, when the US military noted in a press release that it was conducting airstrikes “near Irbil and the Mosul Dam.” US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said the nine airstrikes, which “destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle,” were launched “under authority to support humanitarian efforts in Iraq, as well as to protect US personnel and facilities.”

CENTCOM issued two more press releases on Aug. 17, both noting that airstrikes took place “near the Mosul Dam.” CENTCOM said the strikes destroyed “ten ISIL armed vehicles, seven ISIL Humvees, two ISIL armored personnel carriers, and one ISIL checkpoint.”

In the Aug. 17 press release, the military added that the strikes were launched “to protect critical infrastructure” and “support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State].”

And today, CENTCOM said the military launched 15 more strikes in the Mosul Dam area. “The strikes damaged or destroyed nine ISIL fighting positions; an ISIL checkpoint; six ISIL armed vehicles; an ISIL light armored vehicle; an ISIL vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft artillery gun, and an IED emplacement belt,” CENTCOM said.

Since the US air campaign around Mosul Dam began three days ago, American forces have conducted a total of 40 reported strikes: nine on Aug. 16, 16 on Aug. 17, and 15 today, according to The Associated Press.

Evolving US mission in Iraq

The missions of protecting “critical infrastructure” and supporting Iraqi Army and Peshmerga offensive military operations were not part of President Obama’s initial reasoning for launching airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq. Obama authorized the use of force to protect minority Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar and halt the Islamic State’s advance on Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, where US personnel are based.

Obama invoked the War Powers Act in a letter to Congress that was released yesterday to explain the reasons for expanding the strikes to support offensive military operations by Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

“On August 14, 2014, I authorized the US Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam,” Obama stated in the letter. “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),” which is now called the Islamic State.

Obama said further that “the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger US personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace.”

The US air campaign appears to be having some success. The Peshmerga, backed by Iraqi Special Forces, SWAT units, and aircraft, are said to have retaken several towns and villages north of Mosul, including Batmay and Telskef.

Iraqi and Kurdish officials are saying the Islamic State forces at the dam have been been defeated, but the complex cannot be occupied as there are still IEDs seeded throughout. Fighting is said to be taking place on the west bank of the dam, The Washington Post reported. The Islamic State has denied reports that its forces have withdrawn from the Mosul Dam.

Up until Aug. 7, the Obama administration resisted entering the fray in Iraq. The US sat on the sidelines and resisted Iraqi pleas for air and other support as the Islamic State and its allies seized control of much of Anbar in January and then stormed through Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces beginning in June. Additionally, the Islamic State has consolidated its control of several provinces in Syria and entered into areas it lost there earlier this year.

President Obama had campaigned on withdrawing all US forces from Iraq by the end of his first term, and kept his campaign promise when he failed to negotiate a deal to keep US forces in country after December 2011. Obama referred to the Islamic State as the “jayvee team” in an interview with The New Yorker that was published in January of this year. Since then, the “jayvee team” has stormed throughout Iraq and Syria and has taken control of significant territory in both countries. This has forced Obama to reengage militarily in Iraq, even if only in the north.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Bruce says:

    Welcome to Iraq War Part III. Expect another decade of bloodletting and tens of thousands of American ground troops back in theatre as events unfold. This initial counter-attack by the US and the local forces being supported has an inertia limit it will reach; and then the scales will swing the other way as they always do in this kind of protracted, grinding sort of warfare. When it does, Obama will have two choices – all in on the ground – or cut and run. It’s going to get ugly, fast.

  • Mike E says:

    More airstrikes please, and sufficient boots on the ground.

  • Tom says:

    Why do I have this Deja Vu where twice ISIS retreated to Tikrit to draw ISF into a trap and then took more territory?
    Again at the start of August they withdrew towards Mosul, sucked the Peshmerga in and defeated them and did the same at Sinjar.
    Also while the Peshmerga concentrate on Mosul Dam, ISIS fights for the Rabia/Yarubiyah border crossing and Highway 47 to have a direct connection to Syria’s Hasakah province and its drawn large numbers of YPG fighters into Iraq enabling them to seie more YPG towns. Further south, ISIS has launched a full scale assault in Diyala province heading towards Sulaymaniyah, and in the Baghdad Belts, ISIS is securing territory closer to Baghdad IAP.
    In Syria, ISIS has breached the Tabqa Base and SAA is trying to relieve the base. In the Kobane Canton, ISIS is making steady progress pushing on Kobane. Further West, they are rolling over the rebels.
    Then there are the reports that ISIS vehicles are still being hit near Irbil which indicates, something is seriously wrong.

  • Stephanie says:

    I have a friend who’s in the Peshmerga and he seemed to have a pretty optimistic view of the latest turn of events when I talked to him today. Let’s hope!

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Well, it didn’t take long, Bill, for barack hussein obama to demonstrate what I said to you yesterday (Not posted for LWJ readers consumption). What he said would be a “limited” action, has now expanded.

  • Panason says:

    @Tom, you are right, ISIS retreated to Tikrit to draw ISF into a trap and then took more territory. It’s just a matter of time when we get the part 3 of the Iraq war, and nobody want’s to ask questions. In my opinion this is bad, real bad…

  • Evan says:

    This could be a good thing……
    It seems that things are beginning to coalesce in Iraq, finally.
    An inclusive government is being formed, as a prerequisite to military aid by my country, which I support.
    Nouri al Maliki is gone, and the Peshmerga, and the Iraqi army are starting to work together to fight a common foe, which can only be a good thing.
    We’ve been killing IS bad guys left and right as well as degrading their capabilities by destroying their armor assets and heavy weapons…..all the while never losing a single man.
    Abu Adam?!? Are you out there?!??? Are you a charred corpse in some burnt out technical by now? Well, if you aren’t yet, don’t worry, you will be soon……

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    To protect US personnel hundreds of miles downstream?
    Even if ISIS were to blow the entire dam, the flood waters would take hours to reach Baghdad. Technically, it would not endanger American personnel there.
    Yes, this is “mission creep”, but it’s not the Cold War variety. This is an inexperienced WH team inventing the wheel as it goes along.

  • Tom says:
    “An employee at the site, however, said ISIS militants still held the Mosul Dam, giving them control over power and water supplies and where any breach of the vulnerable structure would threaten thousands of lives.”
    “But Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said operations around the dam were “ongoing” and he was not prepared yet to say whether it had been retaken by Iraqi forces.
    As fighting intensified, ISIS militants were said to have killed dozens of Kurdish fighters and captured 170 of them, according to a Twitter site that supports the group.”
    I think Obama was misspeaking about the dam’s recapture and the Peshmerga/ISF are cashing checks their wallets can’t cover.

  • manus says:

    Well, boys, buckle up, as there are two female journalists from the UK at the Mosul Dam with the Peshmerga and Iraqi Special Forces folks. I’m not going to do the work for you, but their twitter feeds are replete with photos and there is an article on the Telegraph.


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