Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Guess Who’s Bombing ISIS?

by Micah Zenko
February 4, 2015

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters)


Today, the New York Times reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in December, “citing fears for its pilots’ safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured.” The article states that the UAE will not participate until U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft are based in northern Iraq, rather than Kuwait where they reportedly are now, so they can respond faster to execute a combat search-and-rescue operation to recover a downed pilot. The reason those V-22s are not in northern Iraq is that the airbases located there cannot be adequately secured from the potential threats from ISIS rocket, mortar, and small-arms attacks. Raising the overall level of the security of an airbase, including the approach and departure corridors, in order to station such a valuable air asset would require an estimated three to four hundred American troops.

To be completely clear, the UAE is demanding that the United States place its troops at greater risk of being killed—in order to reduce the risks to its own pilots—before it will recommence airstrikes against ISIS. The UAE has two fleets of its own AW109K2 and AW139 combat search-and-rescue helicopters that it could station in Irbil, most likely, with Iraq’s permission. These are less capable than V-22s, but they could be used by the UAE if it wanted to immediately assure the safety of its pilots. Understandably, it would rather pass the risk on to U.S. troops and V-22 pilots.

The UAE’s behavior is one of those expected dynamics of coalition warfare that I pointed out in October: Partners quit or significantly reduce their participation in direct military operations, impose strict limitations on how and where their combat forces will be deployed, and make demands of the more wealthy and powerful coalition partners in order to maintain their participation.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby insisted yesterday, “Let me just more broadly respond to the idea that this is the United States’ war. It’s not. And I think a coalition of sixty nations proves that it’s not.” Indeed, many countries have declared some degree of support for the counter-ISIS coalition, but this is impossible to evaluate as this happens through unobservable and slow-acting policies. The commitment of providing kinetic military power is the most meaningful and consequential action that coalition members can take. Dropping bombs is immediately responsive, destructive, and relatively easier to document.

How have the initial promises of the broad-based military coalition turned out? Yesterday, the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) which oversees operations against ISIS, graciously provided us with the updated data listed below. Note that the U.S. share of the burden has increased since September, when Maj. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian stated that the United States had conducted 74 percent of the 240 strikes against ISIS. Though there was no country break up provided in September, CJTF-OIR told us that the United States has provided 92 percent of the 1,011 strikes in Syria and 72 percent of the 1,236 strikes in Iraq. As the air war of attrition against ISIS continues, it is safe to assume that America will increasingly become the predominant actor in the air component of this military fight.


US v Coalition Airstrikes


Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by sanjeev dubey

    Type your coment in coalition..airstrikes must. .

  • Posted by Revenge

    Its time to act, these ISIS animals are out of control, let us hope and pray they don’t make it to Western shores….. No mercy here, kill them all

  • Posted by Eric

    Should that chart read “February 3, 2015” rather than 2014?

  • Posted by Robin Rosenblatt

    Just want until ISIS comes here. We already have Hamas in ever major city. t will happen sooner then you think.

  • Posted by Nemo

    The rich Gulf countries have lots of glitter effect in their show of latest fighter jets and ships, tanks and other military equipment. Apparently, cosmetics don’t win wars. They could be more effective with their eagles and falconry then with their F16s and F15s. They need is a good dose of Pakistani and Egyptian forces to eliminate ISIL. Remember all that glitters in shiny toys does not translate into fighting power. One downed pilots burning and the entire UAE, KSA and other GCC forces are retired back to their donut shops. Sorry those are reserved for fat north american cops so they should go back to their tents and falconry in Balochistan.

  • Posted by Murad Abu Zeena

    The US Syrian strategy, and the whole of Middle East remained captive to two objectives. Maintaining and protecting the despot regimes in the area in return for the total obedience to what ever the decision makers in Washington desire. Any state-leader who dare to deviate from the line should expect a bloody “regime change” even if it means the destruction of the state and its inhabitants. When the errant leader is a dictator, the pretext is ready: “Defending freedom and human rights” or protecting his neighbours from his WMD. . Marketing this strategy in the predominant stable dictatorship of Middle East proved to be a farcical tragedy. In the Syrian conflict, the US found itself in the same camp with “friendly” dictatorship and “moderate” terrorists.
    The anti-Asad camp is made of many groups whose adherence to US declared pretext of democratization and human rights is the joke of the region. The CIA-controlled “freedom fighters” in Syria are of two types: A group of corrupts individuals residing in five start European hotels and conducting their imaginary fight through TV channels. This group has dismally failed to establish any connection with the Syrian people or to establish and effective fighting force in the last four years. The second group, (which is the main brutal fighting force), is divided into two subgroups according to their backers, (but not their fascist Wahabi ideology). Their backers, Whether Saudi Arabia-Emirates or Qatar-Turkey, can hardly be regarded by any standard as a beacon for democracy and human rights in the region.
    The US try to market the opponents of Assad’s regime as a copy of those who signed the “Brag Charter” in the 80s and the Syrian civil war as a struggle for freedom as the Spanish civil war in 1936. Millions of uprooted Syrians had realised long ago that the real objective of destroying their once peaceful state, (albeit a dictatorship), are: removing the only regime that keep refusing to accept the Nuclear state of Israel as the main dominating and brutal entity in the region, and, diverting the legitimate Arab-Israeli conflict to a Saudi-Iranian sectarian conflict.

  • Posted by jk

    U.S. allies in the fight against Islamic State extremists are withholding military capabilities as leverage on President Barack Obama to do more in Syria.

    The story is referring here to Turkey, the UAE, and Morocco. We have known for some time that Turkey had set obnoxious conditions on their participation in the war. They didn’t want to get directly involved in the fight against ISIS if they could help it, and they have wanted to push the U.S. into attacking the Syrian regime.


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