Officials: Commanders want to expand Iraq airstrikes

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Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 8:11 AM

WASHINGTON — U.S. military commanders in the Middle East are urging the Pentagon to intensify the air war against Islamic State targets in Iraq, two Defense Department officials said Wednesday.

Top officers at Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, are urging that the list of targets be expanded, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.

The expanded target list does not mean the U.S. military is going to hit them immediately, one official said. The list has been built up to provide options for commanders.

The military group Islamic State has not shown much tactical savvy, said another official who has been briefed on operations there. Many of their units have remained in the open, are readily identified, and, relatively easy to kill by airstrikes.

On Wednesday, U.S. fighter jets and drones conducted 14 airstrikes near the dam in Mosul in northern Iraq, according to the Pentagon. The attacks destroyed or damaged six Humvees that militants had seized from Iraqi security forces. They also hit two armed trucks, three roadside bomb emplacements and a mortar tube.

There have been 84 airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8.

One critical issue is that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 resulted in the military dismantling the intelligence infrastructure it had built there beginning with the invasion in 2003, the second official said. Those assets allowed them to target al-Qaeda in Iraq for airstrikes and ground operations.

There is round-the-clock use of manned and drone spy planes now, but that doesn't provide the same detail that intelligence assets on the ground can generate, the second official said.

For that reason, there was surprise that the Iraqi army units folded so quickly as the Islamic State captured Mosul and other cities, the second official said. The Pentagon didn't have troops on the ground assessing the readiness of Iraqi units. Assessment teams were sent in last month and have determined the units capable of fighting.

On Aug. 18, Kurdish troops and Iraqi special forces recaptured the dam in Mosul and are retaking areas around it, according to the Pentagon.

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