The U.S. launched a new round of airstrikes in Iraq against the militant group ISIS Saturday, further expanding America's involvement in the ongoing Iraq crisis.
A statement from the U.S. Central Command confirmed nine strikes near Iraq's Mosul dam "destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle."
The strikes were apparently meant to support an effort by Iraqi and Kurdish fighters to retake the dam from ISIS, who've claimed a large area of northern Iraq. It's still unclear how effective the operation was or how many fatalities they caused. (Video via CBS)
The decision to use airstrikes, and further entangle the U.S. in the conflict, likely had a lot to do with the structure at the heart of this latest fighting — Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam, the Mosul Dam.
ISIS first seized control of the dam last week, and it's prompted plenty of panic about what the group plans to do with it. One analyst explained on CNN, the dam is a critical part of Iraq's infrastructure — and a powerful resource for whoever controls it. (Video via YouTube / Nick Short)
"If you control the Mosul dam, you threaten just about everybody — a very substantial part of Iraq — with flooding, with lack of electricity, with lack of water."
"If ISIS blows it up it could send a wall of water 65 feet high through the city of Mosul, and flood Baghdad 250 miles away."
"Flooding will wipe out everything along the river Tigris, cutting electricity, wiping out farmland, even Baghdad possibly underwater."
But the BBC notes ISIS has opted to keep the dam up and running after capturing it, in an apparent bid to control the water and electricity of the surrounding area.
One analyst told Bloomberg controlling the dam gives ISIS a sense of legitimacy. "Islamic State is trying to present itself as a state rather than just a militia. ... They’re the ones providing services to people."
The U.S. strikes comes on the heels of reports that ISIS fighters executed at least 80 Yazidi men and kidnapped hundreds of Yazidi women and children.