ISIS Driven Out Of Mosul Dam

by Dish Staff

US airstrikes have helped Kurdish forces recapture the Mosul Dam area from ISIS militants:

“Mosul Dam was liberated completely,” Ali Awni, an official from Iraq’s main Kurdish party, told AFP, a statement confirmed by two other Kurdish sources. Early in the day US aircraft, for the first time including land-based bombers, carried out 14 strikes. Later, US Central Command confirmed further strikes had been carried out by “fighter and attack aircraft”.

In a letter to Congress, outlining the rationale and justification for the strikes, Obama said the integrity of the dam was crucial to the security of the US embassy in Baghdad. The US has consistently cited the security of US personnel in Baghdad as cover for its military operation to support the Kurds. Sunday’s first strikes were the first time that bombers as well as fighter jets and drones had been involved in the current air campaign, which began on 8 August alongside drops of humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees marooned on Mount Sinjar.

If these reports are accurate, they come as a huge relief, considering the mass destruction the jihadists could cause by blowing the dam up. But Azam Ahmed adds (NYT) that ISIS’s mines are still barring access to the dam itself:

 A commander for the Kurdish pesh merga forces in the area, Gen. Omer Ibrahim, said that ISIS fighters had abandoned the dam complex and retreated to a nearby front. But the complex itself was heavily mined, meaning the pesh merga could not fully enter it and prolonging the push to fully occupy the dam. … Although a series of American airstrikes on ISIS positions near the dam had allowed Kurdish forces to reclaim nearby villages and to approach the area, Kurdish officers said the militants had slowed the progress of the military forces by planting roadside bombs.

This CENTCOM statement also appears to imply that the battle is still ongoing:

Bobby Chesney comments on the legal justification the administration is giving for our involvement:

Both humanitarian and force-protection themes appear in today’s Mosul Dam notification, of course, but the context for each is different. The dam is far from Erbil, and its fate poses no direct threat to US personnel there; the force-protection argument instead is linked to US personnel downstream in Baghdad. That’s not wholly unreasonable; my limited understanding is that a failure of the dam would cause significant problems in Baghdad. …

Perhaps more significantly, isn’t all of this argumentation pretty distant from the much more obvious motivation for this operation–i.e., that possession of the Dam was simply intolerable insofar as it substantially bolstered the ability of ISIS to control territory while also serving as a threat that could be held over Iraqi/Kurdish forces should they succeed (when the attempt inevitably comes) in ousting ISIS from Mosul? As the situation continues to unfold, I predict we will see situations in which US air support will be needed and will be provided, but that will be even more remote from the force-protection and humanitarian arguments that currently have been placed front-and-center; there have been many hints, after all, that a more robust US role may be in the offing once al-Maliki is gone.