SOUTHWEST ASIA, Aug. 7, 2015 – 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
Training for new Syrian forces is still in the early stages,
but Carter views it as a “critical and complex part” of counter-ISIL efforts.
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,”
“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."