Last week we wrote about whether or not the airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS had a chance to be effective and what their objectives and scope should be. As it turns out, we were pretty much spot on. ISIS has presented itself as a juicy target for airstrikes and since the air efforts began on August 8, the ISIS advance has not only been halted, but their major gains in Mosul and the threat to Erbil have been reversed.
The very thing that made ISIS’ advance so focused and frighteningly fast is what made them so very vulnerable to strikes from the air. They had managed to capture a large number of Iraqi army humvees, trucks and armored personnel carriers, as well as towable artillery pieces. Using these, they swept through northern Iraq capturing Mosul and the strategically important Mosul Dam with token resistance from the Iraqi army. They further threatened genocide of the Yazidi people, driving them from their homes, murdering those left behind and rounding up and raping the women.
They have become a textbook definition of a scourge. The leadership vacuum of the Iraqi parliament has contributed to a situation ISIS was able to capitalize upon. But just in the last week, Maliki has stepped down, clearing the way for his successor Al-Abadi to form a more functional government, one of the prime directives of which must be to provide a capable military to protect all of the peoples of Iraq.
President Obama, in authorizing the airstrikes, used the Yazidi humanitarian plight and the threat to U.S. personnel in Erbil as justification to reenter the fray in Iraq. The strikes against ISIS around the Mosul Dam seem to stretch that purview a bit. They are clearly aimed at destroying ISIS’ mechanized stock and weakening the Islamist army enough to allow the Kurds and Iraqi forces to counterattack. While that is not directly related to protecting the Yazidis and Americans, it is unquestionably a good idea.
Once ISIS massed its forces into an army, even a ragtag army with pilfered vehicles and weapons, it made itself into the perfect target for traditional military forces. The humvees, APCs, trucks, MRAPs and towed artillery pieces became easy targets for airborne strikes. A landscape with little to offer in terms of camouflage became an ideal barrel in which to shoot fish. The thermal contrast of vehicles against the desert floor is ideal for pickup with the ATFLIR that the F/A-18s from USS Bush carry. And the targets themselves are ideal for prosecuting with GBU-12s, the 500lb laser-guided bombs that have a 3.6 meter CEP. LGBs are a perfect weapon for this terrain and these targets.
The majority of the strike aircraft have been F/A-18s from the USS Bush, which is cruising in the Persian Gulf. First bombings began on Aug 8 and continued through yesterday, culminating in the unlikely partnership of Iraqi Special Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga warriors joining forces to mop up the ISIS remnants.
The long-term goal of defeating ISIS will not be accomplished solely with American air power. But the use of airstrikes has changed the playing field dramatically. The Kurds are staunch American allies but have been caught in a political Bermuda Triangle for decades. They are a people who straddles the borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Their autonomy makes each of those governments extremely nervous. Because of that, they have not had the benefit of proper arms supplies from the U.S. Perhaps moving forward they will reach a détente with the government in Baghdad and be able to work together to defeat the common enemy of Islamic radicalism.
An interesting wrinkle is that, apparently, the militants believe that if they are killed by a female, they will not go to heaven. They are extremely fearful of the many female Kurdish warriors. There are a number of female aircrew in Air Wing -8. If the purported goal of radical militants is a heaven through martyrdom, then a few female aircrew loaded to the gills with GBU-12s would truly be their worst nightmare.
(Featured Image Courtesy: The Atlantic)