The Cable

A Look at the U.S. Rockets About to Rock ISIS in Mosul

Precision-guided rockets and artillery have been hitting ISIS fighters for months -- and Washington says there's more on the way.

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American warplanes have dropped over 40,000 bombs on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. And while the planes get all the credit for taking out an estimated 20,000 Islamic State fighters and helping Iraqi forces retake the cities of Ramadi, Hit, and Tikrit, two little-noticed U.S. precision rocket and artillery systems have also launched hundreds of strikes against terrorist positions — with more on the way.

Since March 2015, the U.S. Army’s Paladin self-propelled howitzer – think of a 155mm cannon on tracks — has fired nearly 300 times in Iraq. At the same time, the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) has launched nearly 100 missions against the Islamic State since last September, according to the Pentagon. But don’t let that lower number fool you: Each HIMARS “mission” can mean multiple salvos from its six GPS-guided rocket tubes, meaning the HIMARS has probably launched hundreds of rockets at Islamic State fighters.

The rocket and artillery systems come in handy when fighting dispersed and highly mobile insurgents for a several reasons. They’re accurate, for starters, and at long ranges: shells can bore straight down on target, minimizing collateral damage. The Paladin can hit targets 20 miles away, while the 200-lb. HIMARS rockets can reach up to about 45 miles. But the HIMARS can also fire a single, GPS-guided 500-lb. warhead over 180 miles.

And unlike planes, which can be grounded during periods of heavy cloud cover or be pulled off on other missions, the artillery and cannons are all-weather weapons that can cover their whole target area, 24 hours a day. They also add firepower in a hurry. Once a target is punched in, the rockets can fly.

There are already two HIMARS systems deployed with U.S. forces in Iraq’s Anbar province, with another on the way. One, deployed at an Iraqi army base near Ramadi, helped Iraqi forces — with plenty of U.S. support — retake that city last December. Another helped Iraqi forces retake Hit earlier this month.

The third HIMARS in Iraq will be deployed to the Tigris River valley, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander for U.S. operations in Baghdad, said Tuesday. That suggests it could be used in support of the upcoming offensive to retake Mosul, which has been under ISIS control since June 2014.

Another HIMARS will join the fight against ISIS on another front — in Turkey. U.S. and Turkish officials confirmed Tuesday that it will take up position next month in southern Turkey, where it can target ISIS in the so-called Manbji pocket in northern Syria, the last bit of ISIS-controlled territory on the Turkish border. Another HIMARS system in Jordan has fired at ISIS fighters in southern Syria.

The two systems already in Iraq are stationed at the Iraqi army’s base at Al-Taqaddum near Ramadi, (along with an undisclosed number of Paladins), and another at the Al Asad base further north.

Taqaddum sits just over 20 miles from Ramadi, and about about 15 miles from Fallujah, which remains  under ISIS control but has been surrounded by the Iraqi army and allied Shiite militias. The HIMARS at Al Asad is deployed deeper into parts of ISIS-controlled Iraq than Taqaddum.

The use of HIMARS in the American wars of the past decade and a half are hardly new, and reports have emerged of U.S. commandos secretly employing it on kill missions in Afghanistan. And while we don’t know exactly how it has helped in the fight against ISIS, it looks like some fighters in Mosul and in northern Syria may be about to find out.


Photo credit: U.S. Army

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