Thousands of U.S. Marines and sailors have moved into the Persian Gulf as part of the Obama administration's pledge to ramp up its air campaign against the Islamic State group after last week's terror attacks in Paris.
On Thursday, Marine warplanes conducted a series of airstrikes on ISIS targets inside Iraq, according to the Navy, which released photos and some brief video footage of AV-8B Harriers rocketing off the deck of the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge.
It's not clear what the Harriers attacked or specifically where they were sent. A Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon deferred to U.S. Central Command, which did not immediately respond to requests seeking additional details about the mission — the first in more than a month involving sea-based American aircraft.
All told, the U.S.-led coalition carried out 19 strikes in Iraq on Thursday, according to a daily summary compiled by Airwars.org, which maintains months worth of records related to Operation Inherent Resolve. Unspecified aircraft reportedly hit ISIS positions in and around Kirkuk, Kisik, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar, destroying at least a dozen tactical units, plus several weapons and vehicles, a tunnel, a bridge and at least two roads.
The airstrikes were part of the coalition's support for the Kurdish ground offensive that recaptured the city of Sinjar and broke a major ISIS supply line.
The Harriers are assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a North Carolina-based crisis-response force that has been deployed since early October. The unit, comprising more than 2,200 personnel, is part of the Navy's three-ship Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group based in Norfolk, Virginia. It arrived in the Middle East on Nov. 1, the Navy said.
As part of that, U.S. officials are debating what role sea-based air assets can and should play in the ISIS war. It's last involvement came in mid-October, when the Essex Amphibious Ready Group was in the region.
An aircraft carrier, the Harry S. Truman, is scheduled to arrive in the Persian Gulf next month, after it partners with French ships in the Mediterranean Sea. But the entire carrier fleet is stretched thin with big demand not only in the Middle East but throughout the Pacific as well.