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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Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko
May 8, 2015

A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)


Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”  

U.S. officials have gone to great lengths to emphasize the contribution of coalition members in conducting airstrikes against IS, and, in September, even refused to expand the scope of its targets until those partners publicly committed their support.  It is no surprise, given its vastly larger and more proficient aerial capabilities, that the United States has been the primary source of all airstrikes against IS, even while the number of participating militaries has increased from nine to twelve since September. The table below breaks down coalition support for the 3,731 air strikes.

US v Coalition Strikes to May 7One concern relayed to me from CENTCOM officials was that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen would cause the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) coalition members to redirect their combat sorties from bombing IS toward striking Houthi militants in Yemen. It appears that this concern has not yet become a reality. Between March 25, when the GCC intervention in Yemen began, and May 7, a total of 791 airstrikes were conducted in Iraq and Syria, 74 percent by the United States and 26 percent by coalition members, according to data provided to me by the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). This is a slightly increased contribution from non-U.S. coalition members.

It is possible that the slight increase in coalition contributions since March 25 reflects Canada’s April 8 decision to expand its kinetic operations into Syria—becoming the only other country, besides the United States, to do so. As of May 5, Canada had conducted 564 sorties by CF-188 Hornet fighter-attack aircraft. However, the Canadian military does not disclose how many of those sorties resulted in the actual dropping of bombs, so the percentage of overall coalition airstrikes that it is responsible for cannot be attributed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has documented that lots of people and things are being destroyed. For a military that often claims it does not do “body counts,” it has done so repeatedly. Most recently, General Austin declared in March that 8,500 IS militants had been killed. The Pentagon lists more than 6,000 IS targets as having been destroyed. Most notably, CENTCOM press releases indicate that more than 500 “excavators” have been destroyed—as if IS is the world’s first terrorist landscaping company. All of this destruction is coming at a direct cost to taxpayers of an estimated $2.11 billion, or $8.6 million per day. How this open-ended air war will shift when the United States begins providing close air support for trained Syrian rebels in a few months is unknowable.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by BilderbergGroup

    Sounds like you need some Regional ‘Boots on the Ground” Already Quite Motivated to fight ISIS. Those would be the Kurd fighters who have demonstrated both will and ability to fight ISIS and who have for months on end begged to be armed. Yes, the thinking is that you arm them and they want their own state, thats why they wont be armed. Consider it a lease. They are your “Boots On the Ground” – US has so many Elite Universities but so little Brains.

  • Posted by francesco d'allessandro

    Whether boots on the ground or more airstrikes is open to debate. The West has to start thinking outside the box. Both ISIS, AQ and other Sunni radical groups are a thorn to democracy and the liberal order; the same applies to the Shia terrorist organizations. In this matter the West is faced with a no win situation. Fighting ISIS and we are helping the Shias; attack the latter then we are assisting the other side. Either way they both are our enemies. A new policy of allowing them to obliterate each other is an option. Let Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards fight ISIS and the other Sunni radical factions in a war of attrition…and then whoever wins will be weakened and that is then when we move in and administer the final coup de grace.

  • Posted by leo

    You need European races on ground to fight them otherwise you are going to lose all of the colonies in near future because that’s what it seems!

    European races wage race wars but don’t want to fight in it?….lol

  • Posted by John Haas

    Recruiting by guerrilla movements “is not related to the number of tactical victories, to their losses or even to their prospects for success. The rate of recruitment is directly related to the intensity of the terror applied by the enemy in suppressing the movement . . . the more terror the enemy applies, the more fighters he produces . . . .” J. K. Zawodny, “Unconventional Warfare,” 1962

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