Iraqi security forces in an armored vehicle and a Shiite militiaman take part in an operation outside Amirli, Iraq, on Sept. 1. Aid began flowing into the small northern Shiite town after security forces backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes broke a two-month siege by insurgents in a rare victory by government forces. (AP)
After several weeks of U.S. airstrikes, militants with the Islamic State continue to mount offenses against the Mosul Dam and threaten the vital facility that controls water and electricity across northern Iraq.
“ISIS keeps trying to take it back,” Rear. Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said at a briefing Tuesday.
“As long as they continue to pose a threat to the facility we are going to continue to hit them,” Kirby said.
The continued counterattacks from IS militants highlights the strength of the forces that top U.S. officials say are well-armed, well-financed and tactically skilled.
The militants are facing a daily ground-level fight with Iraqi and Kurdish security forces backed by U.S. airstrikes. The latest U.S. airstrike on the Mosul Dam area came on Monday, when U.S. aircraft destroyed three trucks, an armed vehicle and a mortar position near the dam, military officials said.
The U.S. has conducted dozens of strikes since the IS militants abandoned the dam Aug. 18 and Iraqi and Kurdish security forces regained control of the facility.
IS militants controlled the dam for several weeks in July and August, but U.S. officials began providing close-air support for Iraqi forces to retake the dam because the U.S. believed that any failure of the massive facility, either intentional or accidental, could result in catastrophic flooding and a widespread humanitarian crisis.
Airstrikes against the IS forces in the area surrounding the Mosul Dam have continued under the mission that President Obama outlined in early August. He authorized airstrikes for three purposes: to protect U.S. personnel, avert humanitarian crises and support the Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground fighting IS militants, Kirby said.
There are currently about 900 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, most of them providing security for the U.S. Embassy and other facilities while also providing limited advice and support for the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. Military officials say U.S. troops are not involved in ground-level combat in Iraq.
The U.S. military mission in Iraq remains limited, Kirby said, in part because the root problems fueling the IS militants’ support and success are political, not military. Beyond the battlefield, Iraq’s Baghdad government needs to offer Iraq’s Sunni minority a fair share of power and money, officials said.
“Ultimately … the real measure of success is that their ideology is ultimately defeated and the only way that is going to be done is through good governance,” Kirby said.
“There is not going to be a military solution to this. ... The answer is that the ideology gets rejected because there is good government, responsive government and inclusive government inside Iraq and frankly in Syria as well,” he said.