The US military today launched airstrikes around Haditha Dam in western Iraq, targeting Islamic State insurgents there for the first time in a move to prevent the group from capturing the vital dam. The strikes represented a broadening of the US campaign against the Islamic State militants, moving the military operations closer to the border of Syria, where the group also has been operating. Speaking in Georgia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that if the dam were to fall into the militants' hands "or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq," including US interests there.
Hagel rejected the suggestion that the Haditha strikes opened up a new front in the war against the Islamic State or that it represented an escalation of US military operations. US officials said that while the Anbar Province dam remains in control of the Iraqis, the US offensive was an effort to beat back militants who have been trying to take over key dams across the country, including the Haditha complex. Hagel said the Iraqi government had asked the US to launch the airstrikes and that Iraqi forces on the ground conceived the operation. "The dam is a critically important facility for Iraq," Hagel said. The military said today it had also launched a fresh air attack against militants near the Mosul Dam.