Air com­mand ham­strung by White House man­dates

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The monthly score­cards is­sued by U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand’s Air Force com­po­nent il­lus­trate how care­fully — crit­ics would say how in­ad­e­quately — the White House over­sees the air war against the Is­lamic State.

About half the com­bat mis­sions ac­tu­ally un­leash ord­nance. The other air­craft re­turn to base with just as many bombs and mis­siles as when they left.

“It is not an air cam­paign,” said re­tired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McIn­er­ney, a Viet­nam War fighter pi­lot and one of 88 ad­mi­rals and gen­er­als who signed a let­ter sup­port­ing Don­ald Trump. “In ad­di­tion, a gen­eral in Bagh­dad must ap­prove ev­ery bomb dropped — hand­cuffs on air power to let ISIS sur­vive.”

The Is­lamic State is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, an Ara­bic acronym.

The mi­cro­man­age­ment reaches higher than Bagh­dad: A num­ber of mil­i­tary peo­ple say the Obama White House wants as close to zero civil­ian ca­su­al­ties as pos­si­ble.

In the two-year air war, the Pen­tagon has sent its most so­phis­ti­cated and lethal war­planes, in­clud­ing the B-1B bomber and F-22 fighter. But there are many off-lim­its tar­gets — in­clud­ing build­ings in Raqqa, Syria, the Is­lamic State’s pro­claimed cap­i­tal, and Mo­sul, Iraq, its largest ur­ban prize — be­cause they house civil­ians as well as fight­ers.

The White House di­rec­tions reach out­side Syria and Iraq to Libya, home to one of Is­lamic State’s largest armies. The top gen­eral for Africa tes­ti­fied he needs White House ap­proval for any airstrike. As a re­sult, such mil­i­tary ac­tion has been rare in Libya since 2011, when in­tense U.S. and NATO bomb­ings led to the over­throw of Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

The num­bers tell the story in Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the mis­sion to de­feat the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria.

This year the U.S.-led coali­tion has launched 12,350 com­bat mis­sions. Of those, 6,575 — about half — dropped one or more weapons.

The count was sim­i­lar in 2015: 21,113 mis­sions — 9,914 mu­ni­tions-drop­ping mis­sions.

Crit­ics say these num­bers mean the Is­lamic State has been al­lowed to op­er­ate for too long. A much more in­tense cam­paign could have killed more fight­ers and saved more in­no­cent lives from Is­lamic State’s butch­ery, they say.

Re­tired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Dep­tula is an ex-fighter pi­lot and war plan­ner — and one of the air cam­paign’s fiercest crit­ics.

“We have it within our ca­pac­ity to de­mol­ish the Is­lamic State, lead­ing to the elim­i­na­tion of their sanc­tu­ary to ex­port ter­ror to the United States,” Mr. Dep­tula told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “How­ever, to do so will re­quire mov­ing be­yond the cur­rent grad­u­al­ist, se­quen­tial, Iraq-first ap­proach to deal­ing with them. The ane­mic ap­pli­ca­tion of airstrikes must be re­placed with a more ro­bust, com­pre­hen­sive, rapid and si­mul­ta­ne­ous use of air power — not sim­ply in sup­port of indige­nous al­lied ground forces, but as the key force in de­com­pos­ing the Is­lamic State.”

Air Force Cen­tral Com­mand ex­presses pride in how it is do­ing the job, call­ing its cam­paign of in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion and smart weapons “the most pre­cise in his­tory.”

“Air­power and the in­ge­nu­ity of Air­men en­abled the Air Coali­tion, in con­cert with ca­pa­ble ground forces, to ap­ply con­tin­ued and per­sis­tent pres­sure on Da’esh,” the com­mand said in a July 31 re­port, its lat­est. “The pres­ence of civil­ians, hostages re­ally, re­quires the Air Coali­tion to act with dis­ci­pline and ex­act­ing pre­ci­sion to avoid harm­ing the peo­ple we seek to pro­tect.”

“This air cam­paign is the most pre­cise in his­tory. Coali­tion air­power re­mains fo­cused on en­abling ground forces to dis­man­tle Da’esh’s ad­vance and re-es­tab­lish con­trol over ter­ri­tory. Erod­ing rev­enue streams con­tin­ued to re­main a pri­or­ity and will be a fo­cus area headed for­ward,” the re­port said. “The Air Coali­tion has con­trib­uted to cre­at­ing ef­fects de­signed to cre­ate Da’esh de­ci­sion-mak­ing con­fu­sion.”

The Air Force re­port takes par­tic­u­lar sat­is­fac­tion in the strike pack­age that de­stroyed more than 200 trucks and killed 350 fight­ers as they tried to flee the fall of Fal­lu­jah, a Sunni Mus­lim power cen­ter in western Iraq.

“Sit­u­a­tions like the Fal­lu­jah con­voy strike demon­strate the Coali­tion is hav­ing an im­pact on the en­emy’s abil­ity to ef­fec­tively com­mand and con­trol forces,” the re­port said. “Air­power will look to con­tinue to cre­ate tac­ti­cal, op­er­a­tional, and strate­gic ef­fects to em­bolden part­ners and demon­strate the Air Coali­tion’s com­mit­ment to tak­ing the fight to the en­emy.”

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