The DHS Assistant Secretary Todd Breasseale Tweets:
This Q&A w/ @POTUS is worth a read. As a veteran of #Afghanistan & #Iraq, I appreciate this kind of myth debunking. http://www.stripes.com/q-a-with-president-barack-obama-1.411876 …
From the STARS AND STRIPES interview:
1. Mr. President, many military families wonder why there is debate about whether or not their sons and daughters are on a combat mission in Iraq. They are risking their lives to defend not only Iraq, but ultimately the United States and the Western way of life. The U.S. forces who have lost their lives in Iraq since 2014 died on the ground fighting the Islamic State. In your own words, could you please say why this deployment back to Iraq is not a combat mission?
In our fight against ISIL, three of our brave service members have made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield—Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin and Chief Special Warfare Operator Charles Keating IV. These three men were killed in combat while they were supporting local forces in Iraq. They gave their lives to keep us safe, and our prayers are with their families who have endured a loss that few of us can imagine. This Memorial Day, I’ll have the opportunity to honor these three patriots and speak to the American people about their sacrifice.
So it is combat?
Even the White House is finally going to stop pretending?
Will the rest of the country?
Tim Frenholz (QUARTZ) observes:
Heavily armed US soldiers have been photographed assisting a Kurdish militia unit fighting to re-take Raqqa, the Syrian city that the Islamic State (ISIL) calls its capital.
The pictures were taken on May 25 by an Agence France Presse correspondent, who quoted a Kurdish commander saying that US soldiers are “present at all positions along the front.” This would seem to weaken claims by US president Barack Obama and the Pentagon that US soldiers are not directly fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but simply advising local allies.
[. . .]
One reason for these distinctions is likely that Obama is operating on sketchy legal authority in prosecuting this war, drawn from the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2001 to fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The political specter of the Iraq conflict hangs over lawmakers, and despite repeated pleas, the White House cannot get Congress to grant him new war powers to formally attack ISIL, even as lawmakers urge the war on.
While politicians appear content to ride out the election year with ambiguity about the US role in the battle against ISIL, at least one soldier has taken matters into his own hands. Army captain Nathan Smith, who supports US military action against ISIL, nonetheless filed a lawsuit against the government on May 4, alleging that current operations against ISIL in Syria and Iraq are illegal because the president lacks constitutional authority to prosecute war there.
So it is combat.
And combat continues because the Iraq War continues.
Strikes in Iraq
Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 28 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
-- Near Baghdadi, two strikes destroyed an ISIL bunker and an ISIL vehicle.
-- Near Beiji, a strike destroyed an ISIL fighting position.
-- Near Fallujah, four strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed three ISIL vehicles and an ISIL tunnel entrance.
-- Near Habbaniyah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL vehicle bomb.
-- Near Hit, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun.
-- Near Kisik, two strikes suppressed two separate ISIL mortar positions.
-- Near Mosul, eight strikes struck six separate ISIL tactical units, damaged an ISIL staging area, suppressed an ISIL rocket position, and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL assembly areas, six ISIL supply caches, an ISIL command and control node and an ISIL vehicle bomb.
-- Near Ramadi, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL bunker.
-- Near Sinjar, a strike destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL heavy machine gun.
-- Near Sultan Abdallah, three strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and suppressed an ISIL rocket position and an ISIL mortar position.
-- Near Tal Afar, four strikes struck three separate ISIL headquarters and an ISIL weapons storage facility.
Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is a strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target. Ground-based artillery fired in counterfire or in fire support to maneuver roles is not classified as a strike.
And as the US continues bombings, Iraq continues its assault on Falluja. AL ARABIYA reports:
The Iraqi Army has declared on Saturday the start of an operation to liberate Fallujah’s city center, considered to be ISIS stronghold in the western province of Anbar, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
Ammar Karim and Layal Abou Rahal (AFP) report, "Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces, including the Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella group dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias, began a huge operation on May 22-23 to retake it." THE TEHRAN TIMES notes, "Iran will take action as much as needed and requested by Iraqi officials to counter terrorism, Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, said on Friday." As Iran invades Iraq, Saif Hameed (REUTERS) reports:
Sunni politicians in Iraq condemned on Saturday a visit by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani to Shi'ite paramilitary forces fighting alongside the Iraqi army to drive Islamic State militants out of the Sunni city of Falluja.
Three lawmakers from the province of Anbar told Reuters the visit by Iran's al-Quds brigade commander could fuel sectarian tension and cast doubt on Baghdad's assertions that the offensive is an Iraqi-led effort to defeat Islamic State, and not to settle scores with the Sunnis.
Winning hearts and minds?
At JUST SECURITY, Christoph Wilcke observes:
As the Iraqi military moves to retake Fallujah from ISIL with support from volunteer militias and ahead of the offensive to dislodge ISIL from Mosul, the Iraqi government and the US-led anti-ISIL coalition should also press for accountability for Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — the name for the largely Shia volunteer forces.
Iraq has built up increased command structures for these forces, but is lagging in ensuring effective control over them, including by prosecuting those members who execute, torture, kidnap, loot, and pillage populations in recaptured areas.
To start, Iraq should make war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide offenses under domestic law. Iraq should also join the International Criminal Court, which has a mandate over these crimes. International oversight can help in establishing a credible system than could independently and impartially investigate these grave abuses. Most of all, the state needs to prosecute abusive fighters and their leaders.