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.

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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  • Matthew Martin says:

    The comment “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.” is very telling. We seem to have a misguided approach in dealing with these threats, and it just seems that there is a fundamental lack of understanding among those entrusted with this responsibility that is quite worrying.
    Good article.

  • Mr T. says:

    Several months late and millions of dollars short. Does anyone else thnk that sending expensive missiles in to take out a truck or a mortar or an artillery piece is a little ridiculous? Shouldn’t we be trying to take out their leadership and do something a little more strategic for the cost of those flights and missiles? These strikes seem little more than political window dressing and don’t make sense.

  • adolf rafael says:

    it’s interesting to hear islamic state(Is),the great threat to US national security.In my opinion,USA and her western allies will never be able to rub the prophecies found in HOLY QUR-AN,dat muslims will dominate the entire world.
    We take one step ahead.

  • Eric Sykes says:

    Any successful air campaign requires forward observers on the ground, usually special operators, to find targets, direct fire, and gauge damage, so the administration’s “no boots on the ground” claim is moot – unless they actually are going about this bombing campaign without forward observers. I wouldn’t put it past them at all.
    ISIS gains in the region are stunning, large swaths of Iraq and Syria. We cannot concern ourselves with just protecting the Kurds and ethnic minorities. As long as ISIS remains the threat to Kurds, ethnic minorities, and global security will always exist. I believe Senator Dianne Feinstein put it well when she said “It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future.”

  • Green1Delta says:

    While I don’t find it shocking that Pres. Obama casually dismissed IS as a gang of amateurs “earlier this year,” I do, unfortunately, think it’s time for a broader air campaign. Clearly, the armor, artillery and supply capabilities of IS could be completely destroyed by our Navy pilots in rather short order; I think it should be done.
    No more SF, “advisers” or PMCs on the ground, but yes, an actual air campaign is probably warranted at this point.
    Animo et Fide!

  • Stavy says:

    Are we not bombing the “left overs” that we gave the Iraqi military and which fell into ISIS control? They ran for their lives when faced with a “JV” threat? The Iraqis may be cowards but there is a real disconnect there. Just when I think the credibility of this Administration could not get any lower it does.
    We will eventually have to not just put boots on the ground, we will have to commit Abrams tanks and BFV’s to push them back into Syria. The Kurds and Iraqis will not be able to do it on their own even with air cover. Mark my words.
    The problem is I don’t trust this administration to do the right thing and if they did, to do it the right way. So we will waste time and money dropping bombs until 2016 when the next president will have to deal with this threat.

  • 5150 says:

    Eric Sykes,
    Irregardless of the validity of your assertions, successful air campaigns have been achieved without the employment of “forward observers”, or joint terminal attack controllers. While many exemplifications of these documented success are widely available, one need only look back at Operation Desert Storm; fixed-wing electronic warfare assets and satellite imagery provided an operational platform for strike aircraft and surface-launched missiles.
    Considering wheeled vehicles are their primary mode of transportation, a reasonable person can expect to see more air strikes on Islamic State and/or other hostile religious militias’ armed vehicles (“technicals”). Also, the heat signature from their captured military vehicles will provide an exceptional target.

  • Chris says:

    Hey Adolf Rafael,
    Does that prophecy include crucifying children? Is that a step ahead for you, you animal.
    May all the barbarians face the justice of the true GOD of the Bible! You will burn in Hell with your Un-Holy Koran!


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