I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”
Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to help the refugees, and last night two RAF C-130 transport planes were also on the way.
However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been “useless” because it was dropped from 15,000 ft without parachutes and exploded on impact.
The question here is not how good our pilots and crews are, it’s what rules are US airdrops being conducted under? The Pentagon’s DVIDS site isn’t posting about the new operations in Iraq yet. So the horse’s mouth, if you will, isn’t whinnying.
According to this, from DoD, we’re using C-17 Globemasters to drop the aid to the Yazidis.
The C-17 is an incredible aircraft, but like any system it does have its limitations.
According to Military Times, the C-17 was accompanied by two C-130s and a pair of F/A-18s (from the carrier George H. W. Bush, by the way) for escort. So, not a large or heavily armed force. Also, not a force that’s going to fly close to the ground. If you really want to be sure that your aid is getting where you want it, you’re going to have to a variety of aircraft, helos and fixed-wing, operating from a supply base somewhat near the siege. These C-17 and C-130 aircraft are apparently aiding the Yazidis from their base in Afghanistan.
Obama’s first and foremost goal in Iraq is to do something without doing anything that might put American boots on the ground. His prime interest is not necessarily to do anything effective. It’s just to be seen doing something.
That includes not engaging any talk of inserting ground forces to take on ISIS, as Obama has made clear, and it includes not having any of the humanitarian missions fly too close to any ISIS positions, running the risk of shootdown and then a search for the downed airmen and to retrieve the wreckage from the aircraft. ISIS has captured major caches of US weapons as the Iraqi army, for which the weapons were intended, melted away in the face of ISIS attacks. The question is, what are ISIS’ anti-air capabilities?
According to ISIS’ propaganda, they have captured some anti-aircraft guns.
The video also features ISIS fighters firing what appears to be an SA-7 Man Portable Air-Defense System, commonly known as a MANPADS, as well as some kind of wire-guided anti-tank guided missile, much like the U.S.-made TOW currently in use by moderate Syrian rebels. Both the Chinese HJ-8 and Russian AT-4 anti-tank systems have appeared in ISIS hands in Syria.
MANPADS are serious business. That wire-guided anti-tank missile is probably a TOW. They cost about $10,000 a pop last time I checked, which was admittedly a while ago.
Video footage also shows ISIS fighters with towed and mounted anti-aircraft guns, including powerful 12.7mm DShK machine guns and what appears to be either a Chinese-made Type 65 or Type 74 37mm twin-barreled anti-aircraft gun, raising the question of what risk Iraqi or U.S. helicopters and planes would face unless effective artillery missions were launched to suppress ISIS air defenses.
Whatever the risk is, I’m sure Obama has seen a readout of all the hardware that ISIS scooped from the Iraqi army. That’s sure to inform how he tells SecDef Hagel to set the rules for the aid flights to the Yazidis.
So, add that up plus the way Obama handled Libya, an air war led from behind in which Obama’s prime directive was again to conduct all operations from the air and to keep all US aircrews entirely out of range of the various enemies on the ground, and it’s entirely plausible that the rules of operation in Iraq have our pilots flying too high to drop aid to the Yazidis very effectively.
If a show is all you want, then that’s enough. It’s not like the media or Obama’s core supporters are going to wade into the details of this anyway.