US Turns to Truck-Mounted Rockets for Operations in Mosul, Raqqa

A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System strike destroyed a building housing ISIS fighters near Haditha, Iraq, on Sept. 7, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Ryan E. Alvis)A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System strike destroyed a building housing ISIS fighters near Haditha, Iraq, on Sept. 7, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Ryan E. Alvis)

The truck-mounted M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, used sporadically thus far in the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria, is increasingly being employed in the “shaping operations” for the long-planned offensives against Mosul and Raqqa.

The system, produced by Lockheed Martin, fired from Turkey earlier this month in support of Turkish forces now inside northeastern Syria, partly to seal the border against foreign fighter reinforcements for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, said U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad last Thursday, Dorrian also said that the system has been used in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in their “shaping operations in and around Mosul. What we’ve done is we’ve hammered Daesh targets with airstrikes and strikes from artillery and HIMARS,” he said, using another term for ISIS.

From a firebase at an undisclosed location in southeastern Turkey, “the HIMARS in Turkey was fired into northern Syria. It was fired against a Daesh safehouse and the target was destroyed,” Dorrian said. He declined to say where the HIMARS that fired on targets around Mosul was located.

On Sept. 4, the day after the HIMARS in Turkey fired, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara tweeted, “Last night: U.S. HIMARS in place and in action. The latest step in U.S.-Turkey cooperation in the fight” against ISIS.

In a briefing to the Pentagon last April, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the task force, said that a HIMARS system would be based in Turkey to stop cross-border attacks by ISIS in Syria and another would be placed in northern Iraq to back an eventual push on Mosul.

“Those are two separate HIMARS systems — one going to be used in Turkey to support our operations, one in support of our operations in Iraq,” he said.

Gersten said the HIMARS slated for northern Iraq initially would be placed in the upper Tigris River Valley, where Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, had set up a firebase last March for four .155 howitzers near Makhmour, about 60 miles southeast of Mosul.

Iraqi Security Forces, with the backing of U.S. airstrikes, have since moved further north to the airfield called Qayyarah West, about 40 miles southeast of Mosul.

Last November, the U.S. Army disclosed that the HIMARS systems had been in place in Iraq since last summer and had fired more than 400 rockets from positions at the al-Asad Air Base and Taqqadum near Ramadi in Anbar province.

In March, a HIMARS in Jordan fired into Syria in support of “moderate” Syrian rebels, the Pentagon said.

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Richard Sisk
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