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Will U.S. Fighters Hit U.S.-Made Tanks in Iraq?


U.S. warplanes early Friday morning launched airstrikes against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, a Pentagon official said.

A pair of F/A-18 fighter jets made by Boeing Co. and flying from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs against artillery operated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant near the northern city of Irbil, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

Kirby didn't specify what type of artillery was targeted, but former DoDBuzz editor Philip Ewing, now a senior defense reporter at Politico, noted on Twitter that CNN correspondent Ivan Watson reported that ISIL fighters were in possession of U.S.-made M1 Abrams tanks made by General Dynamics Corp. and captured from Iraqi forces. The cable news network later reiterated the claim, citing information from Kurdish officials.

In an interview with CNN, Kirby said only one airstrike had taken place and didn't describe the type of artillery, such as whether it was a mobile howitzer unit or anti-aircraft battery. "This artillery had only recently been put into position," he said. "We took it out pretty quickly." He also acknowledged that ISIL fighters are "well-resourced."

Later in the day, Kirby in a statement said the U.S. launched two more bombings in the Irbil area -- one in which a drone aircraft struck a terrorist mortar position and another involving four F/A-18s that blasted a ISIL convoy of seven vehicles and another mortar position.

The Pentagon hasn't detailed what type of American-made equipment the rebels have taken from the Iraqi military, though recent headlines indicated the materiel included the iconic Humvee utility truck made by AM General LLC and other combat vehicles.

It's unlikely defense officials will share additional information on the topic anytime soon, much less verify that U.S. fighters are tracking or targeting American-made tanks. The Pentagon didn't schedule a press briefing for Friday.

In the past, the Pentagon has referred questions about the matter to the Iraqi military. "DoD is not in a position to provide information on the status of Iraqi military equipment," Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said in an e-mail from June. "You would have to ask the Iraqis."

As of 2012, the Defense Department's $11.6 billion foreign military sales program with Iraq was the fourth-largest in the region and the ninth-largest in the world, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The U.S. has already delivered to Iraq 140 M1 Abrams tanks and, in recent weeks, rushed delivery of 5,000 more Hellfire missiles, according to a July 2 report from the service. The first six of an eventual 30 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters made by Boeing Co. may be delivered this month, and first of an eventual 36 F-16s made by Lockheed Martin Corp. are scheduled to arrive in September, the report states.

(Story was updated to include information about additional bombings in the fifth paragraph.)

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