Kurds move to retake Mosul dam as U.S. bombing weakens ISIS

The New York Times reports: Seizing on the momentum of focused American airstrikes in recent days, Kurdish forces moved to retake the strategic Mosul Dam on Sunday night, in their most significant challenge yet to the Sunni militants’ advance in northern Iraq.

The American assaults hit 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint belonging to fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the United States Central Command said Sunday.

In the past two days, United States forces have conducted 30 airstrikes across Iraq, officials said, with many of them focused around the dam, which militants captured after routing the Kurdish forces 10 days ago. A statement from the National Security Council in Washington on Sunday said that the bombings were ordered by President Obama to help the Iraqi forces “retake and establish control over the Mosul Dam.”

Mr. Obama, the statement added, also officially informed Congress that he had authorized the American airstrikes in Iraq, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.

As of late Sunday, Kurdish government officials said fighting around the dam complex, Iraq’s largest, was continuing, despite early reports that the site had been retaken.

“We do not control the entire dam yet,” said Fuad Hussein, a spokesman for Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish president, in a televised statement.

The air campaign has seemed to check the militants’ move against the semiautonomous Kurdish region, an offensive that sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing and at one point threatened the Kurdish capital, Erbil.

By hammering the militants with warplanes and drones, the Americans have severely curtailed the freedom of movement enjoyed by the ISIS fighters.

It remains to be seen how the Kurdish forces, known as the pesh merga, may fare if the air support is halted, despite Mr. Obama’s suggestion that it could last for months. Having lost significant ground during the ISIS fighters’ sudden advance this month, Kurdish forces have shown that they may not be able to go it alone. The forces pushing into the Mosul Dam area are believed to include the Iraqi Special Forces, making the operation a hybrid of American, Kurdish and Iraqi commands.

Kurdish officials acknowledge that the airstrikes have been vital to recent success in halting the militants’ onslaught. For their part, pesh merga officials have complained bitterly about inferior arms compared with those used by the militants, who have claimed powerful American munitions abandoned on the battlefield by the Iraqi military. [Continue reading…]

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4 thoughts on “Kurds move to retake Mosul dam as U.S. bombing weakens ISIS

  1. hquain

    What’s astonishing is the paltry level of forces and materiel involved in this momentous and state-collapsing conflict. “The American assaults hit 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint…” That is, presumably, 10 Toyota pick-up trucks, 9 military vehicles, and a few armed men by the roadside. The first day, the US blew up one artillery piece, to great acclaim — and apparently, success in blunting the attack on Irbil.

    What ever is going on here?

  2. hquain

    Thanks for finding and posting the article. Of course, exactly as you imply, it’s only the beginning of understanding.

    Many questions: Who are the ISIS fighters? (Crucially for their longer-term prospects, what is their relationship to the regions they’re occupying?) Who are their commanders? How did they learn to use heavy weapons? What is the command structure? The suspicion is that a lot of this information is simply unavailable, and therefore subject to conjecture determined by the conjecturer’s predispositions.

  3. Paul Woodward

    This is a must-read on how ISIS is organized:

    This is based on research done by RAND based on documents provided by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. (No doubt some people will scream: USG propaganda, but seriously, the Pentagon does actually have a practical interest in trying to understand how these guys are organized.)

    The key finding is this: ISIS is self-funded, self-organized. The evidence bears this out in as much as an organization that was responding to competing demands from multiple external backers would surely end up operating much less efficiently.

    How did they learn to use heavy weapons? My guess would be through having recruited members who were previously in the Iraqi military.

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