When the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Division broke and fled ahead of the advancing columns of ISIL fighters near Mosul earlier this summer, they left behind a treasure trove of US supplied military equipment that the jihadists have since turned on the civilian population.
Among the spoils were hundreds of Humvees, small arms and ammunition, and as many as 52 American M198 howitzer mobile gun systems – the same guns that two US Navy F/A-18s likely pounded with 500 lb. laser guided bombs on Friday.
The mobile gun systems were in rage of the city of Irbil, which president Obama said on Thursday night that the United States would fight to protect, as about 40 US military personnel are there manning a joint operations center with Iraqi forces, along with American diplomats and civilians working at the consulate there.
The powerful US-made 155mm gun has a range of about 20 miles, putting quite a bit of distance between the shooter and their intended target — in this case the city of Irbil. President Obama on Thursday night gave the green light for strikes anywhere in Iraq where US citizens were in danger, so CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin gave the order to strike on Friday when it was determined that the city was in range of the guns.
The guns cost roughly half a million dollars each, and while it takes a substantial amount of training to use the weapon properly—it can fire two rounds a minute by a trained crew—it is still relatively simple enough that the jihadis have learned to lob shells with the system.
The big 42-ft. long gun not only has range, but it can cast a wide swath of destruction when tis shell hits. Shrapnel can fly up to 500ft., making dead-on aim less of a concern.
The US began shipping the gun to Iraq in 2011, and started training soldiers from the ill-fated 2nd Division by mid-year.
In a Washington Post story written at the time, the division’s Col. Alaa A. Abdalrida said that “without the Americans, I couldn’t defend the country” and that the artillery “will ensure the Iraqi army is no less than other armies.”
A Specialist in the newly formed artillery regiment Ali Hadi added that “this is so much technology, powerful. Things are going to get better.”