By Mark Pyruz
File photo: USN Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet over the Persian Gulf
A collection of thoughts on the current application of U.S. airpower in the defense of Iraq:
-Drawing from public comments made in the recent past by current Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, application of U.S. airpower in support of Iraq had been held back by the Obama administration in attempting to achieve American preferences for a new Iraqi Prime Minister. However Peshmerga setbacks and the prospect of a humanitarian disaster at Sinjar Mountain appear to have forced the Obama administration's hand, with U.S. airpower now engaging in limited airstrikes against Islamic State forces.
-Even in such a limited capacity, a small demonstration on the effectiveness of U.S. airpower in potentially rolling back an enemy offensive is now being rendered. There are a number historical examples of this capability to draw upon, where U.S. airpower has been coupled with indigenous armed forces in successful counteroffensive operations. One such campaign took place during the Easter Offensive in Vietnam, and more recently another took place during the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom (from the perspective of Afghanistan's United Front, this could be considered a counteroffensive). Moreover, American military prestige is set to be reestablished in this part of the world, following less than sought-after results from ground force invasions and military occupations previously conducted in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
-Current level of force suggests a U.S. military intent to prevent further IS penetration toward sites such as Arbil and Sinjar Mountain, and the establishment of distance beyond the range of IS artillery. Actually, this can be seen as a parallel effort to that of the IRGC-QF in its direction of Shia militias in establishing defensive lines before Baghdad and the Iraqi holy cities, beyond the range of IS artillery. Thus it can be said Iranian military direction contributes towards the defense of the American embassy in the Green Zone, while American airpower contributes towards the defense of the Iranian consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan.
-As it now stands the Americans are more actively assisting the Kurds, where the Iranians are more actively supporting the Shia. These parallel efforts are being waged against a common enemy: the Islamic State, former Baath elements and their Iraqi-Sunni allies.
-Peshmerga difficulties over the past week can be seen as a setback to President Barzani's goal of an independent Kurdistan. It's possible a precondition for application of U.S. airpower in support of Iraqi Kurdistan was for Barzani to privately withdraw his stated intention of holding a referendum on independence.
-The Obama administration is open to criticism for sitting on Iraqi requests for U.S. airstrikes. Apparent Peshmerga military setbacks appear to have taken U.S. leadership by surprise, another of many surprises during the 2014 Northern Iraq Offensive. What's more, sitting on this request has further enabled the Islamic State to capture strategic hydroelectric dams, providing IS with a degree of potential leverage over much of Iraq's populated territory.
-While it might be politically opportune to limit U.S. airstrikes to that of establishing distance zones before sites such as Arbil and Sinjar Mountain,--while attempting to render a U.S. determined political outcome in Baghdad--it makes no sense, militarily, to allow initiative to be maintained by the Islamic State and its Sunni allies.
-It should also be pointed out that whereupon the Obama administration makes the decision to apply U.S. airpower in force, in support of a genuine Iraqi counteroffensive, Islamic State forces must also be targeted in Syria. Sanctuaries for enemy forces as were experienced by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and more recently during Operation Enduring Freedom must not be permitted. That said, the more reliable ground force partner for this adjoining theater would be the SyAA and its NDF allies. However such an alliance requires a realignment of U.S. foreign policy in synch with a revised threat assessment reflective of the new reality in Iraq and Syria.