Obama’s Iraq War Begins

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 8 2014 @ 12:30pm

For those just tuning in, the US Navy launched our first airstrike on ISIS early this morning:

U.S. officials tell NBC News that two US Navy FA-18′s dropped two five-hundred pound bombs on ISIS enemy forces outside Erbil this morning. No word on casualties. The two fighter jets flew off the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. The Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby: At approximately 6:45 a.m. ET, 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.”

So who was behind last night’s airstrikes?

The most probable answer is Iraqi Su-25s, manned by Russian or Iranians — or maybe Iraqis.  “The Iraqi government was just as quick to take credit for the strikes as other governments were to deny their involvement and so, combined with the fact that the IAF can launch such operations, it actually looks like they managed to do it on their own,” Khoury told BI. In any case, Iraq’s skies are crowded.

A former high ranking CIA official in Baghdad told Jeff Stein of Newsweek that Turkish jets carried out the airstrikes. “There’s no question about it,” he said, adding that “certainly we are giving them targeting data.”  Stein notes that Turkish F-16s were reportedly patrolling the skies over the area near Sinjar in northern Iraq, where about 50,000 Yezidis are starving after fleeing ISIS militants.

The Pentagon claims to have many options for how it might carry this mission forward:

“We’re talking a very, very permissive operating environment, at least in the air,” said Mark Gunzinger, a former DoD official and now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “We have to be concerned about low-altitude MANPADs, but it’s pretty permissive, so that does open up how they might posture forces in an actual concept of operations.” … It is entirely possible that a sustained campaign would be launched from outside Iraq, relying on long-distance capabilities, Gunzinger noted.

“Since we don’t have a large footprint in country and we don’t have a lot of combat aircraft in country I think anything more than small strikes and raids, if it’s a more concerted effort, will rely heavily on longer-range capabilities,” he said. “This could be a very different kind of an air campaign than we’ve done in the past, depending on the size and duration.”

But Steven Bucci doubts airstrikes will accomplish much on their own:

This is not an adequate policy.  It is a knee jerk reaction that is too little, too late. Using air power alone to “plink” at individual vehicles and pieces of equipment did not work in Kosovo for Bill Clinton, and will not work here.  The policy of “do as little as humanly possible” just so you can get credit is now coming home to roost. This requires a much larger regional response.  ISIS is a regional threat, and it will take cooperation from numerous sources to deal with it.

And Noah Rothman suggests that the odds of further escalation are high:

Regardless of the assurances the president has made to a war-weary public, a report in CBS This Morning on Friday indicates that American military officials are aware of just how comprehensive a military campaign aimed at neutralizing this fundamentalist threat will have to be. “Senior officials describe ISIL forces as swift, effective, and capable of carrying out military mission with quote ‘tremendous military proficiency,’” CBS news reporter Major Garrett reported. “The Iraqi army and Kurdish fighters have been no match for them. Now, from the air, the U.S. will join the fight. Top advisers predict a long, very long military campaign.”

CBS reporter David Martin noted that the humanitarian airlift operation “could foreshadow a much larger military campaign.” He noted that at least 150 American military advisors and an “unknown number of diplomats” remain in Erbil, a city under siege by Islamic State forces.