- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2014

The U.S. military has significantly ramped up its bombing campaign in northern Iraq in recent days, sending fighter jets and armed drones to support Kurdish and Iraqi forces who reclaimed control of the Mosul Dam from Islamic State fighters early Monday.

U.S. officials said 15 airstrikes were carried out against the Islamic State — also known by the its previous name, ISIL — positions near the dam on Monday alone, a notable uptick since the U.S. bombing campaign focusing on easing a humanitarian crisis spawned by the Islamic State began Aug. 8.

Monday’s strikes “damaged or destroyed nine ISIL fighting positions; an ISIL checkpoint; six ISIL armed vehicles; an ISIL light armored vehicle; an ISIL vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft artillery gun and [a homemade bomb] emplacement belt,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 68 airstrikes in Iraq,” the statement said. “Of those 68 strikes, 35 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.”

Initially, the Obama administration said it was focused on protecting the Yazidi minorities and Americans in northern Iraq. But what began as a slow air campaign on targets of opportunity has begun to look more like a strategic operation within the past three days.

Recent days have seen some lawmakers in Washington call on the White House to expand the campaign, but President Obama has appeared hesitant to evoke the ire of what he describes as a war-weary American public.

“[We’ve] got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them, that a group like that is contained because, ultimately, it can pose a threat to us,” the president said Monday at the White House.

Lawmakers have suggested that Mr. Obama is taking an incremental approach to making the American public comfortable with the idea that the U.S. military may be engaged in a missile-heavy operation aimed at crippling the group.

A few hours before Mr. Obama addressed the public, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the most outspoken members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, speculated that the president is perhaps looking to first show progress in Iraq before admitting that the operation may slowly escalate to something more substantial.

The approach is viewed by some lawmakers as “very disappointing,” steered by the president’s fear of public perception, the Illinois Republican said.

“I understand Chicago politics, and I know the kind of politics he was steeped in,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “You put every decision you make almost seemingly through the spectrum of ‘What does this mean for me politically?’ And I think he thinks that the American people are so tired of war that they’re not going to follow the president into war — they’re not going to follow him into a broader military action.”

If the president ever musters the courage to “step up and sell” an aggressive air campaign to the American people, Congress will stand behind him, Mr. Kinzinger said.

Mr. Obama has received severe criticism for his Middle East foreign policy strategy, which has been lax in military strength. The president has questioned the need for military force, suggesting that a decade of war has depleted federal coffers.

Two former generals who have executed some of the Pentagon’s successful military operations say that the U.S. military will need to conduct hundreds of airstrikes per day to gain leverage over the Islamic State.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula blasted the Obama administration for its unwillingness to commit to stronger action. The Islamic State needs to be eliminated before they can solidify a base of operations in Iraq, and the only way to do that is by instituting “an aggressive air campaign” consisting of hundreds of airstrikes per day, he said. Inaction will beget another Osama bin Laden-type crisis, he said.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, former deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said that if U.S. military aircraft are targeting more of the Islamic State’s moving artillery pieces, that would make “a big difference” in the battle to reduce the threat that the group poses to Iraq and the country’s neighbor nations. An air campaign of that nature would not be too dissimilar from how the U.S. military approached its battle with the Taliban, he said.

“After the first 15 minutes, the Taliban infrastructure was gone in Afghanistan,” he said. “After that, we pretty much have been chasing the Taliban around forever.”

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