[UPDATED with details on latest strikes] Yesterday, President Obama ordered humanitarian airdrops to Iraqi refugees and authorized — but did not actually launch — airstrikes on Islamic State forces threatening either the refugees or Erbil, the capital of quasi-independent Kurdistan. This morning, at 6:45 am Washington time, the other shoe dropped, in the form of 500-pound smart bombs from Navy or Marine Corps F/A-18 fighters like the one pictured above. [UPDATED 11:00 am: A defense official just confirmed to me that “the strikes were conducted by Navy F/A-18 aircraft from USS George H. W. Bush,” a Nimitz-class carrier named after the president who ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 but decided against invading Iraq itself.]

Ironically, the target, “mobile artillery” advancing on Erbil (aka Irbil), was quite possibly the US-funded Iraqi Army equipment that the self-proclaimed Islamic State has captured. (It’s also possible it could be former Syrian Army equipment, but that would have had farther to go to reach the Kurdish front).

[UPDATED 4:15 pm: In subsequent strikes, armed drones “eliminated” Islamic State mortarmen while four more F/A-18s bombed seven vehicles and another mortar position near Erbil.]

If anyone doubted we are finally — for good or ill — reengaged in the Iraqi civil war we set off inadvertently 11 years ago, those doubts are gone. While both Obama and the Pentagon took care to frame strikes as protecting US personnel, diplomatic and otherwise, in Erbil, there’s no way to protect Americans in the Kurdish capital without protecting the capital as well. That we’ve intervened first in Kurdistan is unsurprising: The Kurds have been most pro-American faction in Iraq since 1991, when the US established no-fly zones and sent aid to protect them from Saddam Hussein.

It’s worth noting that US intervention in ’91 came to late to save the Shia in southern Iraq, something the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad can’t help remembering as it wonders when the US will start protecting it. But the administration is praying that Prime Minister Maliki does not cling to power in the new government now being formed. Airstrikes on the Baghdad front now might be construed as a gesture of support for Maliki,  a Shia chauvinist whose oppression of Sunnis led many to support the Islamic State.

Here’s the full statement from the Pentagon’s senior spokesman, Adm. John Kirby:

“At approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

“Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located.

“The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief.

“As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities.”

[Updated 4:20 pm: And here’s Kirby’s second statement this afternoon:

“The U.S. military continued to attack ISIL targets near Erbil today conducting two additional air strikes to help defend the city where U.S. personnel are assisting the Government of Iraq.

“Shortly after 10 a.m. EDT, remotely piloted aircraft struck a terrorist mortar position. When ISIL fighters returned to the site moments later, the terrorists were attacked again and successfully eliminated.

“At approximately 11:20 a.m. EDT, four F/A-18 aircraft successfully struck a stationary ISIL convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position near Erbil.  The aircraft executed two planned passes. On both runs, each aircraft dropped one laser guided bomb making a total of eight bombs dropped on target neutralizing the mortar and convoy.”]


  • Mitchell Fuller

    Those men and women at the sharp end of the spear, stay safe.

    • Carter Lee

      Sharp end of the spear is at 30,000 feet?

  • Mitchell Fuller

    Well, at least our equipment the strike blew up had only been dropped once by the Iraqi, abandon everything, security forces. As another commentator said on another site, how could our political and military leaders think they could create an Iraqi security force which would stand up and fight, when our own experience from 1991 and 2003 showed otherwise. A tragic waste of American blood and treasure……

    This equipment should have been taken out by U S air strikes immediately after the fall of Mosul when it was still grouped in depots and on the road to Syria and other ISIS locations. If this administration had done this ISIS forces would have been less powerful and a lot more Iraqis would still be alive.

    • ycplum

      Actually, the American-trained Iraqi forces did put up a fight. However, they were forced to retreat when they ran out of water and ammo – which didn’t take long. One Iraqi soldier was saying how they fought until they ran out of ammo. They retreated till they got to a police outpost where they rearmed, fought side by side with the police until the ammo ran out again. All while begging the higher ups for resupply and re-enforcements. Maliki’s buddies who where appointed generals didn’t seem to understand the concept of logistics, just press conferences and photo-ops.
      Also, this isn’t just ISIL sweeping through a region. The Sunnis in the region rose up against Maliki and welcomed the ISIL.

      • Mitchell Fuller

        Iraqi security accounts may be revisionist history after the fact, justification for disintegration in face of inferior numbers / equipped forces re ISIS / ISIL / now Islamic State. In any case they left a lot of U S equipment behind (1/2 billion dollars in Mosul bank and ammo also) which is now being used by Islamic State against various groups in the region.

        Yes, aware of poor generalship and reports of lack of logistics re re supply in fallback positions, but this is because they abandoned their equipment and ammunition depots, Islamic State is firing U S ammo out of U S weapons, otherwise weapons would be no good to them. From rifles, to tanks, to artillery pieces.

        Sunnis, yes, they used ISIS as shock troops, most likely Sunnis and Islamic State will at some point turn their guns on each other. Maliki should have kept paying them with the money we gave him for that purpose, I guess you would have to ask a Swiss banker about where $$ went……

        • ycplum

          The accounts (from several sources) I read involved interviews with police officers, Iraqi soldiers and field commanders. I guess anything can be faked, but this would be difficult. In any case, I doubt the military would push a theme that castigated the top echelon.
          Leadership is critical. The Italian Army was a joke in the early days of WW II. However, the Italian soldiers under German command actually fought well. A lot can be said for leading from the front instead of flaunting in the rear.

    • mesocyclone

      Had Obama left the small recommended force in Iraq, I suspect that the Iraqi army would have done far, far better in all of this.

      • ycplum

        Except that we could not agree with Maliki on mutually acceptable terms for leaving US troops in Iraq. Also, one of the biggest problems that the Iraqi faced was lack of water and ammo.

        • mesocyclone

          At the time, we could easily have pressured Maliki into getting the status of forces agreement on the right terms. He was heavily dependent on us. The Administration had said it was going to get all US troops out of Iraq, and Maliki believed it. That greatly hurt our leverage, but ultimately it was what Obama wanted and what he got.

          Now, do to the Administration’s fecklessness, he is heavily dependent on one of our most dangerous foes in the region, Iran, while another extremely dangerous foe has acquired a safe harbor and immense amounts of money which it can use to attack us here at home.

          Dumb, dumb, and dumber!

          • ycplum

            I will be the last to say our president is a foreign affairs genius. He is not stupid, but his staff if arguably the worse presidential staff since Grant.
            However, I don’t think we could have pressured Maliki. We could have bought him, but that has its own problems. My personal opinion is that Maliki though Iraq was stable enough to do without our troops.

    • foxtrap

      How encouraging to hear that “we” are planning on leaving 7 billion dollars worth of military hardware in Afghanistan, too. Too expensive to take home, they say. Well, how expensive is it, when the goons acquire it, and then use it against our interests later, as ISIS is now?

  • originalone

    What was the reason Bush senior didn’t go into Iraq? Yet Jr/Cheney did, and look where it’s at today.

    • ycplum

      There were several reasons. The primary reason is that there was a large coalition that included several Muslim countries. There was a consensus to liberate Kuwait, but not one to invade Iraq. Since the Crusades, invasion of a Muslim country by non-Muslims has a quasi-religious tone to it. Bush Sr wanted to maintain the coalition and reputation of US being a liberator and not an invader.
      Secondly, A single Iraq would stabilize the region while an Iraq that collapses on itself can create anarchy in the area. Only a united Iraq can counter Iran.
      Finally (but not exclusively), the US economy was not doing that well and Bush Sr. did not want to entangle the US in an expensive protracted war. If we were to have beaten Saddam then, we would still need to garrison Iraq till it was rebuilt.
      In my opinion, Bush Sr. had a better grasp of both the military and political factors involved. The military creates a favorable environment for a diplomatic/political solution. He probably did not see a good diplomatic/political endgame so he did not take the next step. About the only think I can fault Bush Sr for is possibly not leaning on Saddam when he was heavy handed against the insurrection. I might have also forced Saddam to create autonomous zones, which would weaken his grip without destabilizing the country, but this would require a lot of finesse on Bush Sr.’s part and I don’t blame him for not trying.

  • Jefe’ von Q

    I hate to burst everyone’s arm-chair John Wayne/Tom Clancy bubbles, but don’t you folks think that perhaps it’s time to maybe start working with the Iranians and Syrians? They really aren’t a serious threat to us (blah, blah, blah small boats and other mostly crappy weapons) and they really don’t want ISIS to take over Iraq and Syria,,,,,just like almost everyone else. It could actually be a great opportunity for better relations with regional powers.

  • WhereHaveAllTheFlowersGone

    First, the U.S. gives the militants TOW missiles and a sum of $500 million, and now all of a very great sudden, the U.S. Navy comes along and ‘gives’ them a planeload of 500-lb smart bombs. Way to go, Washington. Just can’t imagine the world living life without you (& your missiles and smart bombs and very bountiful greenbacks).