SOUTHWEST ASIA – On Aug. 8, 2014, coalition aircraft conducted the first airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. A year later, senior leaders have had a chance to reflect on the progress thus far and how it shapes the future of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in late July that bolstering Iraq’s security forces and building moderate, vetted Syrian opposition forces is essential to enabling the two countries to defeat ISIL and work to establish peace within their own countries.
“We can help them. We can enable them. We can train them. We can equip them. We can support them,” he said. “But we can’t substitute for them. Because we don’t live here … we can’t keep them beaten. Only the people who live here can keep them beaten.”
While coalition air power patrols the skies, ground forces continue to train and equip vetted local forces in Iraq. About 3,550 American personnel are in Iraq, helping to build partner capacities and assisting with ongoing operations.
Training for new Syrian forces is still in the early stages, Carter said in May, but it is “a critical and complex part of our counter-ISIL efforts”
Air, Ground Progress
The air campaign continues to have success in striking ISIL facilities, vehicles and equipment, and it enables both the Iraqi Security Forces as well as anti-ISIL fighters in Syria, according to U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, the chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
“In my opinion, this is not the same fight as it was when it started, and I look at that based on the effects that we have had on ISIL,” Killea said.
“They are much more territorial — meaning they’re defending more than they are on the offensive. Their attacks are smaller, they are more focused, and they’re less enduring, and all you have to do is look at the gains that have been made on the ground recently to see … there is an effect, and there is progress,” he said.
Unlike ISIL, Killea said, the coalition works to address and minimize the possibility of collateral damage and civilian casualties.
“We have struck … staging areas and destroyed multiple ISIL armored personnel carriers and other vehicles,” he explained. “Coalition forces have also focused on destroying ISIL [roadside bomb] facilities. Airstrikes have gone a long way to degrade ISIL’s ability to mount large offensive attacks, as well as reducing their ability to openly control towns and cities, where they so often inflict terror on those civilian populations.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr., commander of the combined force air component, said American troops and their coalition partners have conducted more than 5,900 airstrikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. The airstrikes are intended to limit ISIL’s freedom of movement, Brown said, while constraining its ability to reinforce its fighters and degrading its command and control.
“Our coalition air power enables [anti-ISIL] ground forces in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “The faster [ISIL] falls, the sooner innocent civilians can return to a peaceful way of life.”
The general also commended the coalition on its ability to make precise strikes against ISIL targets while minimizing collateral damage on the ground and restricting freedom of movement for ISIL. Of the 20,000-plus coalition munitions used against ISIL in the last year, 99 percent of them were precision-guided, Brown said.
“Coalition airstrikes are the most precise in the history of warfare,” he said. “Conducting strikes in heavily populated areas where [ISIL] hides can present a challenge, but our coalition pilots are well disciplined and our weapon systems are extremely accurate.”
Once the ISIL members are flushed out into the open by advancing anti-ISIL fighters, they are once again susceptible to coalition targeting, Brown added.
He said coalition forces can redirect the enemy’s advances or retreats, forcing them to travel discreetly or risk coalition airstrikes.
“Even our combat air patrols — merely the presence of coalition aircraft in an area — also affect their freedom of movement,” Brown explained. “And one year into this coalition effort to rid the world of these [ISIL] terrorists, the team can be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Their hard work and sacrifice have already saved countless lives and we will not stop until we have defeated this barbaric enemy.”