The US military expanded its campaign against the Islamic State today, targeting jihadists who are threatening the Haditha Dam in the western province of Anbar, most of which has been under control of the group since January.
“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the US military on Saturday conducted coordinated airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists in the vicinity of the Haditha Dam in Anbar province,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said. “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes.”
Four US airstrikes targeted and “destroyed five ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, an ISIL checkpoint, and also damaged an ISIL bunker.”
Kirby said that the US would continue to target Islamic State forces near the Haditha Dam.
“We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Sunni tribes, working with those forces securing Haditha Dam,” he said.
Iraqi forces and tribes in Haditha have been battling the Islamic State for control of the area for months. More than 2,000 Iraqi troops, backed by tribal forces loyal to the anti-Islamic State Awakening, have been defending the dam, the largest on the Euphrates River. The Awakening was key to US efforts to secure Anbar and other provinces while US forces were in country.
The Islamic State has controlled the city of Fallujah and the smaller Fallujah Dam, which is downstream, since January. Islamic State fighters had opened the floodgates of the dam earlier this year to impede the movement of Iraqi troops.
The Islamic State previously controlled the Mosul Dam until the US military launched airstrikes in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces in mid-August.
US air campaign expanding across Iraq
Today’s airstrikes in Anbar signal that the Obama administration is widening its campaign against the Islamic State far beyond the initial goals stated at the beginning of the campaign. President Obama had previously balked at military re-engagement after declaring the war in Iraq over and withdrawing US forces in December 2011.
When the Obama administration ordered limited military intervention against the Islamic State beginning on Aug. 7, the objectives were twofold: to halt the Islamic State’s advance on Irbil to protect US personnel based there, and to provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar and other towns in Ninewa province and were trapped on Mount Sinjar.
Within a week, the objectives were modified, and the US military was now tasked with serving as the air force to Kurdish and Iraqi forces “to protect critical infrastructure” and “support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State].”
At the end of August, the US began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who were besieging the ethnic Turkmen town of Amerli in Salahaddin province. Iraqi forces backed by the Asaib al Haq, of the League of the Righteous, an Iranian-supported terror group that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers, liberated the town on Sept. 1. [See LWJ report, US airstrikes in Amerli supported deadly Shia terror group.]
The US military has launched 138 airstrikes against the Islamic State since the campaign began one month ago, making Iraq one of the hottest theaters in which US forces are engaged against jihadist groups.
The Islamic State has beheaded two US reporters in its stated effort to get the US to end the air campaign in Iraq, and has threatened to kill other foreign reporters if the strikes are not halted. It is unclear if the US is planning on striking Islamic State fighters in Syria, where the group controls vast areas of the country.
The Obama administration has yet to articulate a comprehensive strategy to deal with the Islamic State, which President Barack Obama has called a “cancer” and Secretary of State John Kerry has described as “evil.” Administration and military officials have alternately called for defeating and containing the group.