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U.S. Airstrikes Hit Islamic State Fighters Near Haditha Dam

Trying to protect a key piece of Iraq's infrastructure, U.S. forces carried out airstrikes on extremist fighters from the group Islamic State. The attacks struck near a huge dam in western Iraq's Anbar Province.

U.S. fighters and bombers carried out the attack, "destroying five Islamic State Humvees, another armed vehicle, a checkpoint and damaged a militant bunker," The Associated Press reports.

From Baghdad, NPR's Graham Smith reports:

"Citing its authority to protect U.S. personnel and facilities downstream in Baghdad, the Pentagon carried out airstrikes against militants from the self-declared Islamic State, near the massive Haditha Dam.

"Officials in Anbar say fighting is fierce in the vicinity — and that some civilians are fleeing the area as Iraqi security forces look to leverage the strikes with a ground offensive. While the government controls the town of Haditha, IS has been fighting to take the dam and surrounding villages in recent months.

"Some 120 miles northwest of Baghdad, the 5-mile-wide Haditha Dam generates electricity and controls irrigation on the Euphrates River. U.S. officials say if this critical infrastructure fell into militant hands, damage could be very significant."

The airstrikes mark a new area of operations for U.S. forces in the current offensive; the Haditha Dam is in a part of Anbar Province that's only about 100 miles from the Syrian border.

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET: Obama To Discuss IS Wednesday

Citing a broad threat posed by the Islamic State, President Obama said Sunday that he'll deliver a national address Wednesday to discuss the U.S. approach to fighting the group.

"This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops," Obama tells Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press.

Obama stressed that U.S. agencies "have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland" from the group.

Our original post continues:

Prioritizing a crucial dam in Iraq, the fight over the Haditha facility is similar to the battle last month over the large Mosul dam, part of the Tigris River system east of the current struggle.

In addition to providing water for farms and millions of people, the Haditha Dam is the second-largest hydroelectric energy producer in Iraq, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

"We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes," Kirby said in a statement released Sunday.

The Pentagon says that the U.S. Central Command has now conducted more than 130 airstrikes in Iraq since it started the new push against Islamic State on Aug. 8.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.