The Kurdish Peshmerga fight against encroaching Islamic State troops gained a broad new dimension Monday, Aug. 11, when the US began airlifting large quantities of military equipment, including ordnance, from Jordan and Israel to the semiautonomous KRG capital, Irbil. The US maintains 10,000 special operations and marine forces at the King Hussein Air Base in northern Jordan, with large stocks of ammunition that were originally destined for the rebels fighting Bashar Assad in Syria. They are now being redirected to the Kurdish effort to stop the rapid Islamist march on their republic, along with supplies from the US emergency stores maintained in the Israeli Negev.
debkafile’s military sources reveal that for some weeks, those stores and other US facilities in southern Israel have been in the sights of IS elements, which arrived in Sinai six months ago to reinforce Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, the local offshoot of Al Qaeda.
The US, Israel and Egypt have taken care to keep this development under their hats. But in the last month, while Israel was engaged in Operation Defensive Edge against the Palestinian Hamas, IS and Al-Maqdis shot rockts from Sinai at US and Israeli military facilities in the Negev, in support of Hamas. Their attacks were described by Western observers as intense on some days as the Palestinian rocket barrage against the Israeli population.
The speed with which the American military effort in northern Iraq has spiraled in four days – from limited air strikes on IS targets Friday, Aug. 8, to direct arms supplies Monday – will soon confront President Barack Obama with the need for a speedy decision on whether to send American troops back to Iraq.
US air strikes are clearly limited by the lack of an organized list of targets. All they can do now is bomb chance targets as they are picked up by reconnaissance planes or satellites. To be effective, the US Air Force needs to be guided in to target by special operations forces on the ground, who can supply precise data on the movements of IS fighters and mark them for air attack with laser designators.
Another shortcoming is the small number of US fighter-bombers available for Iraq. The aircraft which conducted four attacks on IS forces came from the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier in the Gulf, which has 70 warplanes on board. This is not enough aerial firepower to stop the Islamists’ advance.
They are also disadvantaged by being prevented from striking IS forces in Syria, a limitation which further curtails their effectiveness, as it did in the US war against Saddam Hussein.
In the years 2003-2007, Al Qaeda had the great advantage of an open Syrian border. Instead of maintaining the bulk of its forces in Iraq, they could slip across into Syria out of range of US attack.
Obama will not overcome any of these military issues by his determined focus on sorting out the political situation in Baghdad. Replacing Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki by having his rival, Deputy Speaker Haider al-Abadi, nominated to replace him Monday – even with the backing of Sunni and Kurdish factions who detest Maliki – won’t affect the warfront. This change may generate inter-factional violence in the capital. And it will not quickly stiffen the Iraqi Army or enhance the Kurdish Peshmerga’s ability to curb the Islamists’ rapid advance. Bringing them up to scratch by restructuring and retraining them on modern operational lines, and providing the Iraqi army with an effective air force, will take anything from two to four years.
Last week it was discovered that, among the Islamist fighters who died in US air strikes Friday and Saturday, was a large group, estimated by intelligence sources as up to 200, of American citizens fighting in the ranks of Al Qaeda’s IS in Kurdistan and western Iraq.
The Islamic State never releases facts and figures about its losses. However, Sunday, Aug. 10, a spate of threats imbued with a sense of revenge started appearing on social media, such as: “This is a message for every American citizen. You are the target of every Muslim in the world wherever you are.” Another was more brutal: “ISIS is ready to cut off your heads, dear Americans, O sons of bitches. Come quickly.”
The approaching 13th anniversary of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on America is causing concern in US intelligence and counter-terrorist quarters about possible surprises ahead.