US forces in Iraq have launched airstrikes against Islamist targets near the strategically significant Haditha dam.
The strikes came in response to a request by the Iraqi government to prevent Islamic State (formerly ISIL) militants from capturing the dam.
“At the request of the Iraqi government and in keeping with our mission to protect US personnel and facilities, US military planes have begun striking Isis terrorists near the Haditha dam,” a US official said.
“These strikes are being conducted to prevent the terrorists from further threatening Iraqi security forces.”
The leader of pro-government militia, Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, told Reuters that the strikes hit an ISIL force that was attempting to attack the dam.
“[The strikes] were very accurate. There was no collateral damage … If Islamic State had gained control of the dam, many areas of Iraq would have been seriously threatened, even Baghdad,” Abu Risha said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also stressed the importance of preventing ISIL from capturing the dam.
“If that dam would fall into ISIL’s 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,” Hagel said.
In August, Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces were able to recapture the Mosul Dam that had fallen in the hands of militants. The recapture of the dam – Iraq’s largest – marked a significant victory for government and Kurdish forces.
“So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together and taking the fight to ISIL,” US President Barack Obama said at the time. “If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.”