U.S. led airstrikes in Iraq targeted what, officials have said, was a meeting of top commanders of the Islamic State (IS). The assault took place on Friday in Mosul, a city that was taken by IS militants back in June. A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command confirmed that ten armed trucks were destroyed by the strikes, however it has not been confirmed if the leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was present at the gathering.
The IS group’s victory in Mosul in June left them in charge of one of the largest cities in Iraq with a population of about 1.5 million people. With this victory, Baghdadi was declared Caliph, or supreme ruler, over the territories under IS control making him the leader of the group. Baghdadi was born in Samarra and is said to have transitioned from being an Islamic preacher to militancy when Iraq was invaded by the U.S. in 2003. He was then detained at Camp Bucca by U.S. forces for four years, which is where he is said to have been introduced to and worked with al-Qaeda operatives. From there, he rose to become the leader of IS.
This attack on Mosul is a prominent assault in the series of airstrikes the U.S. led coalition has been launching at IS for the last three months. According to U.S. officials, these steady strikes have caused IS to change its tactics by making them move in smaller groups and limiting their communication. Over the weekend there were also strikes at the Syrian border close to al-Qaim. These strikes destroyed several checkpoints and an IS vehicle and, according to Iraqi officials, killed top aides of Baghdadi possibly including the ruler of the Anbar Province and the ruler of the Deir al-Zour Province in Syria.
Despite the success of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, which have targeted and killed some top IS commanders, militant bombings continue across Iraq with civilians and Iraqi security forces being the primary targets. On Saturday there was a series of bombings around Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, that killed at least 43 people. These bombings have been targeting Shiites and are being blamed on Sunni militants thus raising tensions in the city between the two groups. These tensions further increase the difficulty of regaining stability in a region that is already volatile.
There are multiple challenges facing the U.S. in Iraq as they continue to target IS leaders try to halt the advance of the group with the use of airstrikes and limited military support. It is difficult to collect the intelligence needed to confirm deaths after air raids, as seen with Baghdadi, especially in Syria where the presence of American military is nonexistent. It is also difficult to assess how capable the security forces in the region are, which is crucial since they must be at the forefront of the fight against IS. There are many who believe IS will not be stopped unless the U.S. deploys ground troops to aid the Iraqi soldiers in combat.
By Clara Goode
Photo Source: Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel – Flickr License