July 3, 2014

Baghdad International Airport - the Achilles heel of the American evacuation plan

Earlier this week, the Department of Defense announced the deployment of as many as 300 additional American troops to Iraq, this time specifically as a force to help secure Baghdad International Airport.

It is no secret that access to the airport is a key part of the plans for the possible evacuation of thousands of staffers at the American Embassy, American citizens and civilian contractors from the city should the situation worsen. To get to the airport from the embassy, located in downtown Baghdad in the area formerly referred to as the Green Zone (now officially called the International Zone), travelers must transit the almost eight mile Baghdad Airport Road.

The highway to the airport was commonly referred to by American troops as Route Irish. At one point, it was a treacherous section of roadway often targeted by Iraqi insurgents prior to enhanced security measures along the route. Following the withdrawal of American forces in 2011, these security measures have not been maintained to those previous standards.

Evidently, the forces of the Islamic State/Islamic Caliphate (formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and [Greater] Syria) realize the importance of the airport and the airport highway. Here are two claims from the Islamist group, which if true - stress that IF TRUE - indicate an awareness of that fact.

Here is a Twitter post from a site believed to be associated with the Islamic State, from early Thursday:

The Arabic text reads: "Urgent - the State of the Caliphate is now targeting the Baghdad airport and making direct hits, praise God."

That was followed by a Facebook post by another group associated with the Islamic State:

This communique details a double improvised explosive device (IED) attack:

"Detonation of two IEDs against the pagan army in al-'Amiriyah (west Baghdad) - Detonation of an IED against the army in al-'Amiriyah (west Baghdad) on 4 Ramadam 1435 (July 2, 2014) resulting in the deaths of two of their personnel. When a patrol came to provide support, detonation of the second IED and through the grace of God killed and injured some of them, praise to God."

The map puts it all in context:

It is imperative that the airport and Baghdad Airport Road be secured. If the Iraqis cannot do it, it then becomes another mission for the U.S. troop contingent. If that is the case, they will need additional forces.