In the move to take back the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, U.S. Apache gunships, combat helicopters that had as yet to be employed, engaged and “effectively” eliminated an ISIS target for the first time since their deployment, the Defense Department has announced. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters that the Apache helicopters were used in support of Iraqi forces in their attempts to surround the city of Mosul.
As reported by The Washington Post June 13, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Monday that U.S. Apache helicopter gunships were used for the first time in the fight against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) since being authorized to do so by President Barack Obama in April. (An offer was of use was extended in 2015 in the fight to take Ramadi, but Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declined. However, he accepted President Obama’s offer when it came time to take the offensive against Mosul.) The Defense Secretary spoke while in flight to Brussels for a meeting of NATO ministers and did not go into mission specifics, but he did say that the Apache gunships were used to support Iraqi troops moving to encircle Mosul.
Carter noted, according to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), that the engagement was the “first time that it’s [the Apache helicopter gunship] been called into action, and effectively” against ISIS. Elaborating somewhat, he said that both U.S. and Iraqi military commanders had decided that the Apache helicopters “could be effective in helping those forces that are positioning themselves for the two-forked envelopment of Mosul,” adding, “That’s what it was used for — to help them along their way.”
Another DoD spokesman offered more details on the mission. “The Apache strike destroyed [an ISIS] vehicle-borne improvised explosive device near Qayyarah, Iraq,” he said.
Qayyarah is roughly 40 miles south of Mosul. Iraqi forces, according to Reuters, sent in an armored division last week to begin the ouster of ISIS militants in that small city. It is a strategic move to further isolate Mosul from other militant strongholds in the region.
The city of Mosul, which is situated along the banks of the Tigris in northern Iraq, was forcefully taken over by the Islamic State (ISIS) in June 2014. The Peshmerga, the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan (near whose border the city is located), have been engaged with ISIS since January 2015 but have been basically containing the extremist organization’s fighters. U.S.-supported Iraqi defense forces began moving in to surround the city in April.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post that several Apache gunships were used in the engagement. The Apache is an Army attack helicopter that is often used in pairs.
The AH-64 Apache helicopter is a versatile military aircraft used primarily in ground troop support. The gunship’s weapons include a 30mm cannon and 2.75-inch rockets. The attack helicopter also has the ability to carry a payload of Hellfire missiles.
The Apache helicopter deployment in April was one of several high-profile aircraft deployments made by the U.S. military earlier this year. An undisclosed number of B-52 Stratofortress long-range bombers were also deployed to Qatar to fight ISIS in April. Those particular aircraft had not seen service in the Middle East since Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. A few days later, a squadron of Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircraft was sent to Turkey to fly ISIS communications interception and interruption missions.
The Apache helicopter was used extensively in the Iraq War but was most recently last used in 2014 in support of Peshmerga forces in an effort to control the Mosul Dam. After initially losing the hydroelectric dam to ISIS militants the first week of August 2014, Peshmerga and Iraqi forces, with support from the U.S. Air Force, retook and regained control of the dam on August 16. It has remained in Iraqi hands ever since.
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