The U.S. will place a HIMARS rocket artillery system in Turkey to stop cross-border attacks by ISIS in Syria and also base the mobile system in northern Iraq to back an eventual push on Mosul, a top military planner said Tuesday.
"Those are two separate HIMARS systems -- one going to be used in Turkey to support our operations, one in support of our operations in Iraq," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
The truck-mounted M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) will be placed in northern Iraq to support Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) for the eventual offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul and will "absolutely" move forward with the ISF as it gains ground, Gersten said in a video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon.
Gersten said the HIMARS in northern Iraq would initially be placed in the Tigris River Valley, suggesting that the system would be used to support Iraqi forces near Makhmour, about 60 miles southeast of Mosul. The ISF has been using Makhmour as a staging area for a Mosul offensive that has currently stalled against heavy resistance from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters.
Gersten said negotiations for the placement of a HIMARS system in Turkey were still underway, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the HIMARS was expected to arrive in southeastern Turkey in May.
"That is a recent development that we have been working on and we are looking at how it is going to be installed," Gersten said of the HIMARS positioning in Turkey. "We're working very closely with our strong partners in Turkey."
"As part of this deal, HIMARS systems will be arriving in Turkey's borders in May. Therefore, we will be able to hit Islamic State in a more efficient way," Cavusoglu told the Haberturk newspaper, Reuters reported.
In recent weeks, Turkey has repeatedly fired back with artillery and rockets at ISIS in Syria following a surge in cross-border ISIS rocket attacks on the Turkish town of Kilis.
"To wipe out Islamic State from this region, we need to support the moderate opposition both from the air and ground," Cavusoglu said.
However, "the range of our artillery is 40 kilometers (25 miles), while HIMARS has a range of 90 kilometers (56 miles),"he added.
Last November, the Army disclosed that the Lockheed Martin HIMARS systems had been in place in Iraq since last summer and had fired more than 400 rockets from positions at the al-Asad airbase and Taqqadum near Ramadi in Anbar province. In March, a HIMARS in Jordan fired into Syria in support of "moderate" Syrian rebels.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com.