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In the summer of 2014, in response to gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq, United States President Barack Obama began to deploy U.S. military forces to Iraq to defend American assets and to advise Iraqi government forces. In August 2014, the U.S. military began an aerial campaign directed against radical Islamists in northern Iraq. In addition to military efforts, the United States has also mounted a considerable humanitarian effort aimed towards assisting ethnic minorities in northern Iraq who are under the threat of genocide by ISIS.

In August, when asked about a possible timetable for U.S. involvement in Iraq, the United States President Barack Obama told reporters that "this is going to be a long-term project".[1] The military effort subsequently expanded to protect Iraqi infrastructure and provide air cover to Iraqi troops. Since the expansion and commencement of American airstrikes against the Islamic State, Kurdish and Iraqi forces have been able to reverse significant extremist advances and retake control of the Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq.

United States ground forces

In July, Obama announced that owing to the continuing violence in Iraq and the growing influence of non-state actors such as the Islamic State, the United States would be elevating its security commitment in the region. Approximately 800 U.S. troops secured American installations like the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate in Erbil as well as seizing control of strategic locations like the Baghdad airport.[2][3]

U.S. forces also undertook a mission to "assess and to advise [Iraqi security forces] as they confront [ISIS] and the complex security situation on the ground.”[4] Reports from these American units about the capabilities of the current Iraqi military have been consistently grim, viewing them as "compromised" by sectarian interests.[5][6][7]

On 13 August, the U.S. deployed another 130 military advisers to Northern Iraq.[8]

On 13 August, up to 20 U.S. Marines and special forces servicemen landed on Mount Sinjar from V-22 aircraft to coordinate the evacuation of Yazidi refugees. A team of British SAS was already in the area.[9]

Attempts to rescue James Foley

On July 4, U.S. fighter planes bombed the "Osama bin Laden" ISIS military base in the village of Uqayrishah. Two dozen American Delta Force commandos then touched down near the village in an effort to rescue American journalist James Foley. American forces blocked off the road to the village from the city of Raqqa, but soon encountered resistance from ISIS fighters. On the ground, the American commandos killed several of the fighters, while suffering one casualty. U.S. forces soon came to the conclusion that the hostages were not at the site and abandoned the hostage rescue attempt.[10][11][12][13]

On August 20, 2014, a video emerged over the internet of an ISIS man clothed in black, holding a dagger and standing over an orange-clothed American journalist - James Foley. The video shows Foley criticizing the U.S. government, saying that he desired to have more time to be with his family. The ISIS man in the video, speaking English with a British accent, is seen berating the Obama administration over U.S. attacks against the Islamic State, claiming that ISIS represents the entire Muslim population around the world, who have supposedly accepted them as a caliphate. He then goes on to behead Foley with a knife. In the latter part of the video, he is shown holding another man by the collar – Steven Joel Sotloff, and threatens to murder him if the U.S. government does not comply with ISIS demands.[14][15]

August air campaign

U.S. forces have been undertaking reconnaissance missions over northern Iraq, both by drone and F-18, since the early summer of 2014. By mid August, air strikes became commonplace, and the battles began.[16][17][18]

President Barack Obama meeting with his national security advisors on 7 August.

Non-American airstrikes

On 7 August, global media widely quoted Kurdish and Iraqi government sources as saying that the United States had begun carrying out airstrikes against IS positions in northern Iraq, showing evidence of the strikes and their aftermath.[19][20] The U.S. government immediately denied the involvement of American warplanes.[21] This led to speculation about who had actually conducted the airstrikes, since the Iraqi Air Force is known to lack competent pilots.[22] Anonymous sources told The Daily Beast that the planes were being flown by Russians.[23]

American airstrikes

American F/A-18 fighters bomb Islamic State artillery targets on August 8.

On the evening of 7 August, President Obama gave a live address to the Nation. He described the worsening conditions in Iraq and said that the plight of the Yazidis, a religious minority in northern Iraq threatened with extinction at the hands of the Islamic State, in particular had convinced him that U.S. military action was necessary. The President said that he had ordered military action to protect American lives, protect minority groups in Iraq, and to stop a possible Islamic State advance on Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region.[24]

On 8 August, U.S. Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters bombed Islamic State artillery units. Four U.S. fighters later bombed an Islamic State military convoy.[25] Another round of U.S. airstrikes in the afternoon struck 8 Islamic State targets near Erbil. Armed drones as well as fixed wing aircraft were used in the U.S. attacks.[26] The F/A-18F were launched from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) carrier. A Navy official said that the two planes involved in the airstrikes were Super Hornets with Carrier Air Wing 8, of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.[27]

On 9 August, U.S. forces again launched a series of 4 air attacks against Sunni fighters, this time primarily aimed at armored fighting vehicles. A combination of US warplanes and drones destroyed four armoured personnel carriers and at least one unarmored fighting vehicle near Sanjin, in northwestern Iraq.[28][29]

On 10 August, U.S. forces launched a series of 5 air attacks against the Islamic State, which targeted armed vehicles as well as a mortar position. Assisted by these air attacks, Kurdish forces claimed to have recaptured the towns of Mahmour and Gweyr[30] from Islamic State control. Additional Iraqi airstrikes conducted in Sinjar claim to have killed 45 ISIS militants and injured an additional 60 militants.[31]

The Pentagon characterized airstrikes as stopgap military actions that would not be able to significantly disrupt Islamic State activities.[32]

On 14 August, U.S air-strikes and Kurdish ground forces had broken the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of Yazidi refugees to escape. This made an American ground intervention to rescue the Yazidis stranded on the mountaintop unlikely.[33] The U.S. announced a shift in focus to arming the Kurds and reversing ISIL gains.[34]

On 16 August, U.S. drones and warplanes began a close air campaign aimed at supporting the advance of Kurdish fighters moving toward the Mosul Dam. Kurdish sources commented that this was the largest American air effort yet seen in the war.[35] The fate of the dam is not contested as of 18 August. The air campaign drove the Islamic State from the dam, for now.[36] This marked a shift in the use of U.S. Forces. In a letter to Congress, President Obama explained that he would now also be using American power to protect Iraqi infrastructure and to pursue ISIS, even when they did not threaten the interests that he laid out during the initial commitment to the conflict.[37]

Humanitarian efforts

Bottled water containers are loaded on a U.S. Air Force C-17 for an airdrop on August 8.

The United States, supported by international partners, has undertaken a large humanitarian effort to support refugees stranded in northern Iraq with airdropped supplies. In particular, on August 7, 2 Lockheed C-130 Hercules's and 1 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III dropped tens of thousands of meals and thousands of gallons of drinking water to Yazidi refugees stranded in the Sinjar mountains by advancing IS forces.[38][39]

On August 9, 2014, American planes again dropped humanitarian supplies over northern Iraq, this time consisting of 4,000 gallons of drinking water and 16,000 ready-to-eat meals.[40]

Military aid

On August 5, 2014, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the U.N., wrote in the Washington Post that the United States is involved in "the direct supply of munitions to the Kurds and, with Baghdad's agreement, the shipment of some Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program weapons to the Kurds."[41]

The United States moved from indirectly supplying Kurdistan with small arms through the CIA to directly giving them weapons such as man-portable anti-tank systems.[42]

Involvement by other countries

The United Kingdom's initial role was supporting humanitarian efforts using Royal Air Force C-130's operating from RAF Akrotiri along with surveillance provided by Panavia Tornado GR4's.[43] The first such airdrop was made on August 10.[44] It has also been announced that Boeing Chinooks will also be deployed.[45] The British placed SAS forces on the ground briefly and are airlifting munitions to the Kurds from an unnamed[34] Eastern European nation.[46][47] Members of the 2nd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, has also been deployed to the area.[48] Australia, a close supporter of the UK, started delivering water and biscuits in Northern Iraq on August 14, 2014.[49]

France plans to contribute to ongoing humanitarian efforts in Iraq, in addition to offering asylum to Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence.[50] France is planning to ship arms directly to the Kurds.[46]

Germany has a policy of not supplying arms to active combat zones, so Germany initially ruled out supplying military aid to the Kurds but ramped up humanitarian spending in Northern Iraq and sent 4 transport aircraft.[51] Germany is shipping non-lethal military equipment to the Iraqi Central Government[52] and the Kurdish Regional Government.[46] Given the brutal situation, Germany continues to debate the direct shipment of arms.[53]

Italy started Humanitarian support and then decided to give military aid to the Kurds. The prime minister of Italy Matteo Renzi visited Iraq and the Kurds on 20 August to consider the response to the terrorists of the ISIS. He said that without international involvement it would be a "new Srebrenica".[54]

The European Commission announced it would boost humanitarian aid to Iraq to €17m, and approved special emergency measures to meet the crisis. On 15 August 2014, 20 of the 28 EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss military and humanitarian assistance.[55][56] The EU issued a statement "The EU remains seriously concerned about the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, and condemns in the strongest terms the attacks perpetrated by [IS] and other associated armed groups." The EU welcomed the "decision by individual Member States to respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently military material."[34]

A number of Middle Eastern nations, which don't want their role revealed according to American officials, have agreed to provide small amounts of weaponry.[34]

Sweden expressed support for military assistance by others but for legal reasons will only provide humanitarian support. Denmark has committed a C-130 transport aircraft and money for relief efforts.[57][58]

Erbil-based BASNEWS reported that the Kurdistan Regional Government, in cooperation with the Iraqi and American governments will open a military air base in Erbil. Spokesman for the Peshmerga Ministry Halgurd Hikmat said that seven countries so far have agreed to supply weapons and military goods, being the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, and Finland.[59]

Intervention in Iraqi politics

American politicians and the U.S. government have called for embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who the U.S. has viewed as incompetent and too close to Iran, to step aside. In August 2014 several American officials openly sent messages of support to Iraqi president, and al-Maliki rival, Fuad Masum.[60] This immediately weakened al-Maliki's attempt to form a coalition government, and on August 11 government officials said that his time limit to form the government had expired. On that day, al-Maliki opponent Haider Al-Abadi was nominated for the position of PM with American support, but has not formed a new government yet.[61] Al-Maliki refused to step down, but he warned his supporters in the Iraqi Army, who have convened in Baghdad, not to take military action against Fuad Masum's coalition.[62]

The nature of American intervention in Iraq has led some critics to describe this as a coup.[63][64][65]

On August 15, 2014, al-Maliki announced that he would step down as prime minister.[66] The move was lauded by the U.S. government.[67]


The initial decision to intervene in Iraq was met with bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. However, the extent and future of the intervention was disputed. Members of the Republican Party tended to favor greater intervention against ISIS. Members of the Democratic Party tended to support limited humanitarian missions, but feared for the emergence of mission creep.[68][69]

U.S. President Obama has received significant criticism for his decision to re-involve the U.S. into a conflict in Iraq.[70] The President's opponents on the right contend that this second Iraq conflict confirms that his earlier Iraq Withdrawal strategy was shortsighted, vindicating criticism from his previous electoral opponents, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who had campaigned on the platform that his withdrawal plan was flawed.[71][72] Critics opposed to intervention contend that past occupation policies such as De-Ba'athfication and disbanding Iraq's military served as a proximate cause for much of the sectarian strife and renewed intervention risks aggravating sectarian tensions and driving secular Sunni insurgents closer to ISIS.[73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80]

A Washington Post editorial criticized the American effort to reunite Iraq, claiming that the country was irreconcilably divided.[81] William Hartung, writing in Stars and Stripes, worried that the intervention is likely to have negative consequences, noting the inability to leave the country during the Iraq War.[82]

According to Seth Jones, a terrorism expert with Rand Corp, U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq “could increase the likelihood that ISIS or somebody inspired by ISIS, would strike against the homeland.” The experts believe that the group will be more eager to act against the U.S. if they are attacked. Ramzi Mardini in the New York Times similarly wrote that armed intervention would lead to increase blowback risk of terrorism against U.S.[83] On the other hand, according to Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy "they are likely planning attacks whether the U.S. conducts targeted air strikes or not." “In my opinion, we should destroy them as soon as possible.” he says.[84] Members of the Republican party including John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Boehner have likewise called for greater military strikes in the region to contain the Islamic State.[69]

Democratic Party politician and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the need to intervene in Iraq as being driving by Presidential policy that was weak on the Middle East, failing to stifle ISIS's creation, or to do enough to combat international jihadism in the region.[85][86][87]

An editorial in Vox defined the intervention as being limited to Kurdistan, effectively allowing the Islamic State to control a large part of Iraq in the absence of any other occupying power. The editorial argued that Kurdistan is a stabler area and will be a better ally for the U.S., moreover defending just Iraqi Kurdistan will not be very costly.[88]

The disclosure of the failed hostage rescue attempt of James Foley and Steven Joel Sotloff has been criticized by Congressman Buck McKeon, among others, claiming that carrying out similar U.S. military operations in the future would face greater risk. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the operation was disclosed by the White House after consultation with the Pentagon and because news media were preparing to leak the story otherwise.[89]

See also


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