The White House's scale has tipped in favor of direct action against ISIS and support for their victims. Yesterday, airdrops of much needed food, water and medical supplies commenced over northern Iraq, where ISIS has ran thousands of Iraq's Yazidi minority into the mountains. Meanwhile, ISIS is threatening the Kurdish capitol city of Erbil.
On their march eastward ISIS had attacked towns on their way to Kurdish stronghold of Erbil that were full of Yazidis and other religious minorities, killing many who did not flee the cities of Qaraqush, Sinjar and other smaller villages, and sending thousands of families (estimated 40,000 people) running for their lives into the surrounding rugged mountainous terrain. Those who made it out alive are now without food, water or shelter and temperatures are soaring well over 100 degrees. With what now amounts to a siege, ISIS is literally waiting out those hiding in the hills. If they surrender, they will be executed or possibly forced to convert to Islam. If they do not surrender, they will starve to death or die of exposure under the searing summer sun if something further is not done.
With a humanitarian crisis rapidly developing, the DoD, at the White House's direction, launched an airdrop mission that supplied thousands of gallons of bottled water and prepackaged meals to the stranded Yazidis in hopes that families hiding in the mountains would survive a little longer. The operation included two C-130s, a C-17 and two F/A-18 Hornets as escorts.
As ISIS continues to push north and eastward, the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq has been receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees, most came in hope that the Kurds will have better luck against ISIS than the deserting Iraqi Army and because they really had no other place to run to. Yet even the Kurd's mighty and battle-proven Peshmerga fighters may have a tough time standing up to a ISIS, which is now armed with armored vehicles, missile launchers, and other looted heavy weaponry.
About 10,000 Peshmerga fighters have ranged out from Erbil to take the fight directly to ISIS. According to reports, ISIS fighters have shaved their beards, donned Peshmerga uniforms and are flying the Peshmerga flag to disguise their identities before opening fire or retreating. Still, it seems that the Peshmerga troops are having some success when it comes to vanquishing ISIS units, with the town of Shingal taken back from ISIS hit squads. Iraq's military, which is largely broken tactically outside of Baghdad, is now supporting the Kurds in their ISIS offensive and some are seeing these dedicated troops as a possible national antidote to ISIS's blitzkrieg. It is not known if these forces have been recalled back to Erbil since it has become apparent that an ISIS assault on the city could be imminent.
As it stands now, if ISIS makes a rapid push towards Erbil, the US will order targeted airstrikes on ISIS convoys and other key targets in an attempt to protect the Kurd's northern stronghold, as well as Americans still located there. America's ability to absolutely devastate enemy columns moving on Iraq's highways is well known, but some are asking why are we waiting till the very last minute to take the fight to ISIS, why not start striking them now, yet alone weeks ago?
As for assets in the region, it is now confirmed that both manned and unmanned American surveillance aircraft are monitoring key population centers and highways in Iraq, and the Nimitz Class super carrier USS USS George H.W. Bush and her escorts are awaiting orders as they floats in the Persian Gulf. Other assets, including an array of surveillance aircraft, and possibly some strike aircraft, are based at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, as well as scattered throughout the region at other bases. It is not currently clear if Turkey has approved the use of Incerlik Air Base for USAF operations over northern Iraq but this may become a necessity if the Obama Administration decides to strike ISIS both in Iraq and in eastern Syria.
If ISIS were to overrun Erbil, a city filled with refugees and one of Iraq's most distinct and progressive minorities, a total bloodbath will ensue, and many who have fled ISIS's absolutist grip will have next to nowhere left to run.
Author's personal note: The Kurds have been our allies for decades, and they are a fairly progressive society that allows for religious and ethnic tolerance. Many see Erbil and the Kurdish authority as shining star in a very dim region. I am saddened that we are sitting here waiting to 'see what happens' after well over half of Iraq has fallen to ISIS forces in an incredibly brutal fashion. Keep in mind, ISIS, or whatever it calls itself now, is not a mixed bag of friend and foe. These are absolutely the worst strain of extremism in the region. We should be striking them everywhere we find them as the alternative, an ISIS controlled Iraq, is remarkably frightening and it could lead to a much wider conflict and incredible instability in an already very unstable region.
It is very puzzling that we would participate in an air war over Libya, a place we had little interest in, yet we will not come to Iraq's aid as it is overran by the worst form of Islamic extremism we have ever seen. America is not innocent in these events either. We went in there and created the backdrop for this whole mess in the first place, and yes, President Obama may have been against the war originally, and rightfully so, but he took over this nation's geopolitical liabilities in 2008 whether he liked them or not, and Iraq was certainly one of them.
Nobody is asking for infantry on the ground in Iraq, but air power may stop the spread of this cancer long enough to allow Iraq, and America for that matter, to get a handle on the situation. This is why we should show these animals that they cannot just blitzkrieg an entire country unchecked, and begin air strikes on every known ISIS position immediately, with an especially focused effort on eliminating ISIS forces that are advancing on the Kurds.
America fought alongside Peshmerga fighters in Iraq and they were there for us when things went to hell on our watch, now it is time for us to show the world we do not abandon our allies and we will certainly not willfully allow a country we spent trillions of dollars in national treasure on and lost thousands of lives while trying to stabilize it, be taken over by a bunch of ethnic and religious cleansing maniacs that have absolutely no limits to their capacity for extreme barbarism against innocent people.
A pending humanitarian crisis of massive proportions. A country we invested in heavily that is in grave danger of being turned into a terror state. An enemy with an ideological disease that is spreading via force geographically at breakneck speeds and who is made up of totally irrational actors that hate everything the west represents. A clear objective that does not include nation building or occupation. A situation where not doing something will surely result in many more innocent lives lost than doing something. An enemy that is operating in areas that have largely been deserted by non-aligned parties and innocents and who has not adapted to precision airpower or advanced ISR capabilities. A clear enemy logistics trail that emanates from the Syrian border. A critical region that is already in turmoil and a threat that can ignite a multi-state regional conflict. The Kurds, who fought with us, are at risk of being decimated. One of the world's largest oil reserves could be in the hands of Islamic extremists. Ongoing ethnic and religious cleansing. Finally, a populous nation that America 'liberated' is now facing brutal theocratic totalitarianism that pales in comparison to Saddam's Bathist monarchy we removed.
If there was ever a time when the application of air power was just and strategically applicable, this is it, and no enemy in recent times is as deserving of 'Shock & Awe" as ISIS.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com