The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a regional threat with aspirations to become a worldwide terrorist organization, senior administration officials speaking with reporters on background said last night.
And ISIL a determined and very capable foe, they added.
In June, ISIL crossed the border from Syria into Iraq and took Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. President Barack Obama said at the time that the United States would establish a joint operation center in Irbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region, and in Baghdad. The United States surged both manned and unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
The president also sent military assessment teams to examine the situation and assess the capabilities of both the Iraqi security forces and ISIL.
On Aug. 2, ISIL launched a multipronged attack across hundreds of kilometers in northern Iraq. “It was swift; it was effective,” one official said. “They … acted with tremendous military proficiency.”
U.S. officials coordinated through the joint operation centers with Kurdish Peshmerga commanders and with the Iraqi air force and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. This developed into “a fairly historic level of cooperation” between the Iraqi air force and the Peshmerga, the official said, as Iraqi aircraft supported Peshmerga ground units with tactical airstrikes.
ISIL responded rapidly. “Given the rapidness in which it is able to maneuver, given its ability to direct indirect fire attacks followed by direct assaults with heavy weapons, it is a militarily proficient organization,” the official said. “We are seeing that increasingly … in Syria and also increasingly in Iraq. And it requires a level of sophistication in terms of a military response.”
Last night, ISIL launched another series of attacks, endangering the approaches to Irbil. This threat prompted the president’s decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes, the official said.
Another part of the equation is the danger to the Yezidi people trapped on the slopes of Mount Sinjar. “The Yezidi population has been targeted by ISIL,” the official said.
ISIL has targeted the Yezidi since the days of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the al-Qaida in Iraq leader who was killed in 2006. ISIL is an outgrowth of that terror group. “It is their mission to ethnically cleanse areas of anyone that it disagrees with, and that could mean Christians, it could mean Yezidis, or anyone else,” the official said.
The brutal terror group also is targeting Sunni Muslims who disagree with its philosophy — essentially the majority of the population, the official said.
ISIL drove thousands of people from their homes, and the rugged mountain is their only refuge. The Iraqi air force did launch some airdrops to provide some relief, but they were not enough. Yesterday, a U.S. Air Force C-17 and two Air Force C-130s — escorted by two Navy F-18 Super Hornets — dropped enough food and water for 8,000 people.