US ramps up air campaign in Iraq

The U.S. military ramped up its air campaign on Sunday against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in Iraq.

{mosads}Using a “mix of fighter, bomber, attack and remotely piloted aircraft,” the U.S. conducted 14 strikes against ISIS targets near the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq.

The Sunday strikes were the first reported use of land-based bombers in the campaign. Previously, most of the strikes had been conducted by a mix of fighter jets and drones.

The strikes represented an uptick in the air campaign, which was initially authorized to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering by Yazidis stuck on Mount Sinjar and protect U.S. personnel and property in Erbil.

A statement by the U.S. Central Command said the strikes were conducted “under authority to support humanitarian in Iraq, as well as to protect critical infrastructure, U.S. personnel and facilities, and support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat” ISIS.

The 14 strikes on Sunday “damaged or destroyed” 10 armed ISIS vehicles, seven humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint.

The strikes followed nine conducted on Saturday near Erbil and the Mosul Dam that destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle.

Together, the 23 airstrikes this weekend were almost as many as the 27 conducted since the president first authorized the strikes a little more than a week ago.

The Mosul Dam is strategically important, since it provides electricity and water to Mosul as well as Baghdad. ISIS fighters seized it on Aug. 7, after defeating outgunned Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Kurdish security officials say they have taken over parts of the dam, according to The Associated Press.

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement that Obama notified Congress of the air strikes.

This mission is consistent with President Obama’s directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities — including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad — and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” she said.

“These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq,” she added.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that the U.S. airstrikes had helped the peshmerga forces make “real progress around that dam.” 

“Fighting still continues as of this morning, but it looks like they’re starting to gain the upper hand and [push] those [ISIS] units, the terrorist organization units, back away from the dam,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“It is a strategic asset, and something that will be important to take before they [move] into Mosul,” he said.

–This report was updated at 4:27 p.m.

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