U.S. lim­its planes used for Syria bombing

No plans to call up ad­di­tional air­craft, Pen­tagon says

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The U.S. is re­ly­ing mostly on war­planes al­ready po­si­tioned in the re­gion for its air war against the Is­lamic State, as op­posed to dis­patch­ing a ma­jor buildup of aerial forces that hap­pened in pre­vi­ous cam­paigns.

The set inventory il­lus­trates the slow, me­thod­i­cal na­ture of the air-to-ground bat­tle that the Pen­tagon says will go on for some time. A Pen­tagon of­fi­cial said there are no plans to send ad­di­tional U.S. air­craft into the theater.

Since the start of the air cam­paign on Aug. 8, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand has been choos­ing pre­dom­i­nately small tac­ti­cal tar­gets in Iraq. It so far has held off from tar­get­ing harder-to-find ob­jec­tives in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments where the Is­lamic State, also called ISIL and ISIS, main­tains head­quar­ters, start-up regime of­fices, courts and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions.

The emerg­ing strat­egy ap­pears to be to wait for Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces, still in a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion stage, to tackle those tar­gets. Iraqi troops have seen limited ac­tion so far. Pres­i­dent Obama has ruled out Amer­i­can ground forces.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach is the least risky in hazard­ing Amer­i­can lives or com­mit­ting to a pro­tracted ground cam­paign, but is also least likely to change con­di­tions on the ground,” said Dakota Wood, a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

The bot­tom line: This is not a bl­itzkrieg or a vaunted “shock and awe” op­er­a­tion that would be aimed at quickly rev­ers­ing the Is­lamic State’s gains in Syria and Iraq.

“Air with­out ground is a ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive way to de­liver ex­plo­sives that have min­i­mal last­ing ef­fect, es­pe­cially when the en­emy pos­sesses very lit­tle that he is crit­i­cally de­pen­dent upon that can also be tar­geted by air,” said Mr. Wood, a for­mer Marine Corps of­fi­cer who did plan­ning at Cen­tral Com­mand.

The coali­tion is adding air­craft from France and Eng­land. In the first strikes on Syria, the Pen­tagon said 10 air­craft from Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates played a role.

In Cen­tral Com­mand’s pub­lic run­down of tar­gets, it has not men­tioned the var­i­ous Is­lamic State in­stal­la­tions set up to run cap­tured Iraqi ci­ties, such as Mo­sul, the ter­ror­ist army’s largest con­quest since swoop­ing in from Syria in June.

As of Fri­day, the coali­tion had con­ducted a to­tal of 243 strikes in Syria and Iraq over 50 days — an av­er­age of five per day.

“What air war?” asked Jon Ault, a re­tired Navy fighter pi­lot. “If we’re go­ing to en­dan­ger the lives of our young war­riors, then let’s turn them loose and let them do what they’re trained to do. Send­ing them in harm’s way with so many lim­i­ta­tions is dan­ger­ous and cruel. We could bomb ISIS into obliv­ion in a mat­ter of days, if not hours.”

The go-slow ap­proach al­lows the U.S. to dam­age the Is­lamic State when and where it can un­til Amer­i­can ad­vis­ers com­plete the task of re­or­ga­niz­ing Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces into units will­ing to fight. Once that hap­pens, an Iraqi coun­terof­fen­sive would, in the­ory, scat­ter the ter­ror­ists into the open and re­take piv­otal ground, such as the ci­ties of Tikrit and Mo­sul.

“Sor­tie rate and num­ber of air­craft will be driven by tar­get­ing,” said re­tired Gen. Mer­rill McPeak, the Air Force chief of staff dur­ing a very dif­fer­ent kind of air war — the full-force 1991 Desert Storm. “I sus­pect it’s a small tar­get set and, there­fore, a low sor­tie and air­craft com­mit­ment.”

Not­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s prime ob­jec­tive is to de­feat the Is­lamic State’s vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy, Mr. McPeak said: “You can’t car­pet-bomb an idea, or at least you shouldn’t try to.”

The U.S.’ main aerial work­horses are Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles, as well as the Air Force’s B-1B bomber, F-15E Strike Ea­gle, F-16 Fal­cons and the radar-evad­ing F-22 Rap­tor. The U.S. mil­i­tary is re­ly­ing on one air­craft car­rier, the USS George H.W. Bush, and its F-18 Hor­nets. Desert Storm, whose tar­get list in­cluded many of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s regime el­e­ments, re­quired six car­ri­ers in the Per­sian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Cen­tral Com­mand is not dis­cussing bases. In the past the U.S. has op­er­ated fight­ers out of Jor­dan, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Kuwait and Qatar.

Se­nior de­fense of­fi­cials last week de­fended the air war’s pace.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, press sec­re­tary for De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel, high­lighted the bomb­ings by U.S. and Arab planes that de­stroyed 12 small, mod­u­lar oil re­finer­ies in Syria from which the Is­lamic State draws mil­lions of dol­lars on the black mar­ket.

He called the hits part of “strate­gic at­tacks meant specif­i­cally to get at the ways that this group sus­tains, leads and con­trols it­self. There will be more.”

Adm. Kirby drew a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the air war over Syria, which en­tails strate­gic strikes to take away the Is­lamic State’s in­fra­struc­ture, and over Iraq, where there are Iraqi ground forces to do that at some point. Thus, air­craft bombing sights in Iraq are fo­cused on smaller, tac­ti­cal things such as ve­hi­cles, boats, check­points and small clus­ters of fight­ers.

“This is go­ing to take time,” he said. “This is not a short-term ef­fort. And no­body here in the build­ing is tak­ing any­thing but a sober, clear-eyed view of the chal­lenge in front of us.”

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair­man, said that at some point “we’ve got to have a longer, larger cam­paign that ac­tu­ally re­cap­tures lost ter­ri­tory.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.