AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- At the coalition hub for airpower operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the commander and coalition partners know they are making a difference in the fight against Daesh, another term used that refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group.
“We know from our intelligence that Daesh fears coalition airpower,” said Lt. Gen. John Hesterman III, Combined Forces Air Component commander. “Since Aug. 8, coalition airpower has significantly degraded Daesh's ability to organize, project and sustain combat power while taking exceptional care to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.”
Made up of 18 nations, the coalition airpower team is committed to defeating Daesh and has had many successes on the battlefield.
Coalition airpower has helped ground forces regain territory, removed significant numbers of fighters from the battlefield and eliminated the majority of Daesh’s oil refining capability.
However, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“The success of coalition airpower throughout this conflict is proven by Daesh’s response to our aircraft,” said Maj. John Easton, Air Forces Central Command tactics officer. “Early in the conflict, Daesh paraded themselves in open convoys and brazenly identified their positions with flags as many other fielded forces do. Coalition airpower’s ability to find and target the enemy was so successful that Daesh has since modified their tactics. We know now that they hide amongst the civilian populace and employ decoys in an attempt to be un-targetable.”
With all of the changes the coalition has seen in Daesh tactics, it would seem an impossible task to find and strike them, but the coalition integrates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance analysis and strikes to keep after Daesh.
“As the enemy’s tactics change, so have our airpower tactics, and we are still finding and eliminating Daesh fighters,” said Easton. “Daesh is very much afraid of our ability to strike them.”
Each of the coalition nations contributes something significant to this fight.
“The fact that we have a coalition working together and fighting this enemy is itself a demonstration of combined commitment and overall effectiveness against Daesh,” said Canadian Brig. Gen. Patrice Laroche, Combined Air Operations Center, or CAOC, director. “Arab, European, Asian, North American – we all understand the importance of defeating Daesh.”
Operators in today’s fight know just how critical coalition airpower is to enable ground forces to get after the enemy, and Hesterman said that virtually all are very proud of the contribution they are making, and they should be.
“I expect my team to lean forward, and they are,” said Hesterman. “Not only has airpower been effective, but it has enabled virtually every victory on the battlefield and given the ground forces time to regroup and get their forces in order. It’s also given all our coalition nations the space and time to execute the international lines of effort for countering flow of foreign fighters; countering Daesh financing; providing humanitarian assistance; countering Daesh’s messaging; and stabilizing liberated areas, all of which will be necessary to finish Daesh.”
However, some critics have downplayed airpower’s effectiveness, comparing this conflict to Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those are false comparisons, according to Lt. Col. Dave Haworth, CAOC combat operations director.
“While pilots struck large numbers of targets in Desert Storm and the opening days of (Operation Iraqi Freedom), those fights had extremely different and available target sets,” said Haworth.
“In previous campaigns, we were fighting against a conventional military that massed in the open, away from the civilian population,” said Haworth. “Those target sets don’t exist in this fight now. We're fighting an enemy that hides behind civilians. You simply can’t compare then to now.”
Targeting an enemy that hides among the civilian population is difficult, Haworth said.
“It’s really, really complex to find the enemy, but we are doing it,” said Haworth. “Daesh leadership is on the defense because the more we learn about this enemy, the more targets open up. It’s a growth industry.”
U.S. Army Capt. Matt Mraz, Joint Personnel Recovery Cell deputy director, added that persistent air attack exploits Daesh’s weaknesses, and it is clearly having an effect in concert with ground forces.
“Our senior leaders have always said this fight will be difficult and that it will take time, but we're committed as a coalition team,” said Mraz. “I’m confident that we are going to be able to take down these kidnappers, rapists and murderers for the good of all nations.”
Hesterman said he’s very proud of the young men and women of the coalition, who are risking their lives everyday to go after Daesh and give the world the time it needs to galvanize the multiple lines of effort that will ultimately finish the terrorist group.
“They're exceptionally proud of what they're doing and their impact on the enemy,” said Hesterman. “They deserve the deep respect of every one of us.”