U.S. Army troops firing from Jordan into southern Syria used the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System last week in support of an opposition group fighting ISIS, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday.
The launches were believed to be the first by a U.S. land-based weapons system from Jordan into Syria and raised concerns about a possible expansion of the U.S. effort to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, while avoiding involvement in Syria’s civil war.
“That was a HIMARS strike out of northern Jordan” to back up an opposition group that seized ground from ISIS just across the border, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
“We call it rocket artillery. It’s a very versatile and flexible weapons system,” he said of the self-propelled system. “It’s another platform to conduct strikes” and its use in Jordan showed that “we can integrate with these southern based opposition forces” in Syria, he said in a video conference from Baghdad to the Pentagon.
Warren said that firing the system from Jordan into Syria fit into the “overall strategy” of the U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS, a plan that includes strengthening Jordan’s defenses.
The spokesman also confirmed that the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made artillery systems have been in place at U.S. bases at Taqqadam and the al-Asad airbase in Iraq since last summer. Last November, The Washington Post, citing coalition spokesmen, said that HIMARS systems in Iraq had fired more than 400 rockets since arriving in Iraq in mid-summer.
The confirmation of the HIMARS strike out of Jordan coincided with the release of a report by 30 human rights groups charging that the U.S. and its allies were “fueling the fire” of Syria’s five-year-old civil war by expanding their military activities and backing various rebel factions.
“The Syrian government and its allies, as well as armed opposition and extremist groups, bear the primary and direct responsibility for the horrific reality Syria’s civilians face,” the groups, including Oxfam, Care International and the Syrian-American Medical Society, said in the report.
The report singled out Russia, Turkey, Iran and others for “contributing to the catastrophe,” and also named the U.S., France and Britain. “To varying degrees, these states – which should play a key role in ending the suffering in Syria – are actively contributing to that very suffering,” the report said.
Warren said he hadn’t seen the report but “We disagree. There is a legitimate international terror threat living inside Syria. We believe they have to be defeated. This is not a struggle that we can simply turn our backs on.”
According to a press release, Lockheed Martin’s HIMARS was initially fielded with the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, in May of 2005. Since then, 14 additional launcher battalions have been fielded with the U.S. Army in active and National Guard units. In 2007, the Marine Corps received its first launchers.
The system has been billed as a “surface-to-surface precision engagement” weapon using guided MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems).
HIMARS features a launcher-loader module and fire-control system mounted on a standard five-ton truck chassis that can be transported aboard a C-130 cargo aircraft. The system is operated by a crew of three.
Lockheed has been shopping the system to U.S. allies in the Mideast. In December, Lockheed was awarded a $28.6 million contract to provide 12 HIMARS to the United Arab Emirates.