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.