August 17, 2014:
How did ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)
come to be using American artillery in northern Iraq? Some of these 155mm howitzers are being operated by ISIL and they have been prime targets for U.S. air attacks because the Islamic terrorists were able to use these big guns. There was nothing mysterious about this, at least not if you paid attention to the recent history of Iraq.
When ISIL overran northern Iraq in early June the Islamic terrorists captured a lot of heavy weapons used by the Iraqi Army. Over the last few years the U.S. has sold lots of used heavy weapons to Iraq at attractive prices. This has included 1,026 M-113 armored personnel carriers, 140 M-1A1 tanks, 21 M88A1 armored recovery vehicles and 60 M1070 tank transporters (which can also carry supplies or other vehicles.) Iraq also bought 24 M-109A5 self-propelled 155mm artillery, and 120 M198 155mm towed howitzers along with thousands of hummers and military trucks, plus infantry weapons, engineer gear and other military equipment.
In June ISIL captured about fifty of those M198 155mm towed howitzers and began looking for someone to operate this stuff. That was not difficult. This was because Sunni Arabs got most of the leadership (officer, senior NCO) and technical (like operating artillery) jobs during the decades of Saddam’s rule. ISIL has a large pool of experienced users of artillery. While most Iraqi artillery was Russian, they also had over a hundred Western 155mm models, like the South African GHN-45. This weapon was not only similar to the M198 but superior in some ways (like longer range). The main reason the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi armed forces after 2003 was the fact that nearly all the key personnel were Sunni Arabs, who had just lost power and access to most of the oil income. That loss of power and privilege made most Sunni Arabs very angry and that’s why to this day most Islamic terrorists in Iraq are Iraqi Sunni Arabs. Thus ISIL knew it had a waiting supply of qualified soldiers who knew how to operate an M198 and many were willing to do it without too much prompting.
Until the end of the 20th century the M198 was the standard towed 155mm howitzer for the United States and many NATO counties. Each one weighs eight tons, and can fire conventional rounds as far as 22.4 kilometers (for rocket-assisted projectiles, the range is 30 kilometers). These unguided shells land anywhere within a 200 meter circle. That's at 25 kilometers range. Accuracy gets worse at longer ranges. It takes 12 minutes for the M198 to be ready to fire after the truck towing it stops. It can pack up and move again in about 4 minutes. Using GPS the M198 can be in position to fire in less than ten minutes and shift to another target in about 8 minutes. ISIL are excellent for bombarding cities and towns, which is what ISIL was using them for.