2 years of anti-IS airstrikes have redrawn the Iraqi map

Published 9:37 am Tuesday, August 9, 2016

MAKHMOUR, Iraq — Two years ago, the U.S.-led coalition launched the first airstrikes on the Islamic State group, ushering in a deeper phase of intervention that dramatically changed the fight against the militant group in Iraq. Since then, more than 9,400 coalition airstrikes have allowed Iraqi forces to slowly claw back cities, towns, supply lines and infrastructure.

But the fight — which continues to be largely waged from the air — has also leveled entire neighborhoods, displaced millions and redrawn the Iraqi map.

The U.S.-led coalition estimates that since the airstrikes began on Aug 8, 2014, IS has lost more than 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq. But while coalition airstrikes paved the way for Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces to retake territory, in many cases the result is a ruined prize.

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The first coalition strikes were spurred by an IS push from Mosul a few weeks after the group’s initial rampage across Iraq.

Makhmour base was just one of a number of front-line positions overrun in early August 2014, bringing IS fighters within just 30 kilometers (19 miles) of Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“Daesh was moving into this town and we were withdrawing up into the mountains,” said Ayoub Khaylani, a Peshmerga solider who was at Makhmour base with his unit just before the initial IS attack on Mahkmour. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS.

After three days of airstrikes, the IS advance on Irbil was slowed and Kurdish forces retook the base. Two years later, the fight against IS has moved west across the Tigris River into Nineveh province and Makhmour has transitioned from an active front line to a sleepy support position.