US begins airstrikes against Islamic State near Irbil / LONG WAR JOURNAL

9 Aug 2014 – The US military launched an airstrike against Islamic State forces near the Kurdish capital of Irbil. From Pentagon Press Secretary and Spokesman for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel:

US military aircraft conduct strike on ISIL artillery. Artillery was used against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, near US personnel.

— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 8, 2014

The Department of Defense stated in a press release that F/A-18s dropped two bombs on a “mobile artillery piece’ near Irbil:

At about 6:45 a.m. EDT, two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Kirby said, adding that ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending the city, where U.S. personnel are located.The decision to strike was made by Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, under authorization granted him by the commander in chief, the admiral said.

“As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities,” he added.

The US military moved quickly to strike the Islamic State after President Obama issued a statement last night authorizing airstrikes against Islamic State fighters threatening Irbil or US personnel anywhere in Iraq. The US military is also authorized to launch airstrikes to protect civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar. Obama said that US ground forces will not be deployed to Iraq.

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan’ Posted: 07 Aug 2014 08:09 PM PDT

The US State Department said that Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani jihadist group which is linked to al Qaeda and is active in South Asia, is currently running training camps in Afghanistan.

The State Department made the statement in an update released yesterday to the existing Foreign Terrorist Organization designation for the jihadist group. State’s update added Ansar ul-Ummah as “a front organization” for Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, or HUM. The group has been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.

“HUM has repeatedly changed its name in an effort to avoid sanctions,” State notes in its designation. “Most recently, HUM created Ansar ul-Ummah as a front organization, claiming that the group was an organization for the preaching of Islam, politics, and social work.”

State described HUM as “a Pakistan-based terrorist organization that seeks the annexation of Kashmir into Pakistan and poses a direct risk to U.S., Afghan, and allied interests in Afghanistan.” According to State, “[t]he group operates in Pakistan, and engages in terrorist activity in Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; its membership composes an estimated several hundred armed supporters.”

“HUM also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in the Kashmir region,” State said. “In 2013, a court in Britain convicted on terrorism charges three individuals alleged to have trained in HUM camps in 2009.”

A follow-up inquiry to State by The Long War Journal confirmed that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact locations of the camps were not disclosed.

Other terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, are known to operate training camps in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The US is planning on withdrawing all of its combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 despite the existence of training camps run by global jihadists.

Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen operates freely inside Pakistan, with the permission of the Pakistani establishment, including the military and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, HUM’s leader, lives openly in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad.

Khalil is the man Osama bin Laden consulted before issuing his infamous fatwa declaring war against the US in 1998. Khalil also signed the fatwa. According to the Associated Press, Khalil “dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia, was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”

HUM has been involved in numerous acts of terror in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. [See LWJ report, New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released.]

HUM is one of several jihadist groups that are part of what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described in 2010 as a “syndicate” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region.

“A victory for one [member of the syndicate] is a victory for all,” Gates cautioned. Gates mentioned groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba, as belonging to this “syndicate.” Other groups that figure in this syndicate are the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its offshoot the Islamic Jihad Union, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, among others.

Several al Qaeda leaders have risen from the ranks of HUM. One of the most prominent is Badr Mansoor, an al Qaeda commander who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012. In one of the 17 documents that were released by the US from Osama bin Laden’s collection of thousands seized during the Abbottabad raid, Mansoor was identified as a commander of a “company” of al Qaeda’s forces operating in Pakistan.

At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan, and Commander killed in drone strike ‘funneled Pakistani jihadists’ to al Qaeda.]

Obama authorizes limited airstrikes to protect US personnel in Irbil Posted: 08 Aug 2014 06:14 AM PDT

President Barack Obama has authorized the US military to launch limited airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State, under two conditions: to halt a potential Islamic State advance on Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan that hosts a US Consulate and military advisers; or in support of humanitarian operations to help Iraqis on Mount Sinjar. Obama was clear that the military could launch airstrikes only under those specific conditions, and that the US military would not act as an offensive air force for the Iraqi military or the Kurdish Peshmerga, nor would it send in ground troops to fight the Islamic State.

“Today I authorized two operations in Iraq: targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain without food, water, and facing almost certain death,” Obama said, speaking this evening at the White House.

“To stop the advance on Irbil, I directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL [Islamic State] terrorist convoys should they move towards the city” and threaten US personnel there or “anywhere in Iraq.” The Iraqi government has approved the US’ potential use of force, he said.

Obama was clear that US ground troops will not engage in fighting against the Islamic State.

“I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said. “I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home.”

“American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he continued.

Obama said the US should respond “to help avert a massacre” when able to do so.

“Therefore I authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege on Mount Sinjar,” he said.

Obama’s statement took place just hours after Kurdish officials claimed that the US had launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq. The US Department of Defense denied the rumors.

The Islamic State has made significant advances in northern Iraq during the past week. Over the weekend, the Islamic State seized the city of Sinjar, just west of Mosul, which sparked the exodus of the persecuted Yazidi minority. Tens of thousands of Iraqis fled to Mount Sinjar to escape the Islamic State’s advance.

And within the past several days, the Islamic State took control of the Christian town of Qaraqosh, as well as Bartella and Karamlesh east of Mosul, putting Islamic State fighters just 20 miles west of Irbil. Also, the town of Tal Kayf, north of Mosul, fell under the terror group’s control. The Mosul Dam is also said to be occupied by the Islamic State.

Until recently, each of these areas were under the protection of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish Defense Forces that stood up to Saddam Hussein with the help of the US Air Force for more than a decade before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the Peshmerga left most of the cities and towns without putting up a fight.