AV-8B Harrier airstrikes target Islamic State in Iraq

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A Marine expeditionary unit deployed in the Persian Gulf began conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq this week, officials with the MEU said.

Marine AV-8B Harriers with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 attached to the 15th MEU, out of Camp Pendleton, California, began flying expeditionary strike sorties Aug. 16 from the amphibious assault ship Essex in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, said Capt. Brian Block, a spokesman for the unit. The Essex is the lead vessel in the three-ship amphibious ready group transporting the Marines and sailors of the MEU.

Block said the aircraft from the MEU struck multiple targets in Anbar province Monday. As of Tuesday, the MEU had flown four sorties in support of the fight, all over the western Iraqi province.

Anbar, which includes the population hubs of Ramadi to the east and Fallujah to the west, is now mostly controlled by Islamic State militants. Marines also provide security and advise Iraqi troops at two bases in the province: Al Asad and Al Taqaddum.

While MEU aircraft conduct strikes over Anbar, more than 1,000 troops from the unit are ashore in the Middle East, Block said. Marines with the MEU are conducting sustainment training in Kuwait, including squad live-fire and maneuver, aerial gunnery, and engineering skills development, he said. Another detachment is working in Jordan with the Marines’ crisis response force based in the Middle East to train alongside Jordanian armed forces.

“This is one more data point in the flexibility and relevancy of forward deployed, expeditionary naval forces and our ability to impact the theater,” he said.

The Camp Lejeune-based 22nd MEU, which returned from deployment late last year, also participated in the air assault on Islamic State militants. The MEU’s Harriers conducted four separate strikes on IS targets during the deployment, unit officials said, though they wouldn’t confirm where the strikes took place or what they hit.

The 15th MEU deployed in May for locations in the Middle East and Western Pacific. The unit is set to return at the end of this year or early next.