By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, June 5, 2015 – Despite facing one of the most complex operational environments in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, coalition air power has enabled nearly every victory on the battlefield, a senior U.S. Central Command official said today.
During a telephonic call with Pentagon reporters, Air Force Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III, Combined Forces Air Component commander for Centcom, discussed the complexity and effectiveness of the air campaign against ISIL.
True Coalition Effort
Hesterman expressed pride in the multinational air coalition that formed “very quickly” demonstrating international commitment to defeating ISIL.
“The interoperability between our nations’ airmen validates years of combined training and multi-lateral exercises between our coalition partners,” he said.
Each nation brings capabilities, the general said, such as command and control, airlift, fire support and aerial refueling to a very complex operational environment creating a coalition greater than the sum of its parts.
“Our planning is a true coalition effort in the Combined Air Operations Center here,” Hesterman said, “and we’re flying side-by-side across the region in this fight against [ISIL].”
Airpower: Precise and Disciplined
The general said the air coalition is having a “profound” effect on the enemy.
“Our coalition airstrikes are the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare,” he said.
“We’ve been able to impact the enemy in a significant way, and we do it in a way that minimizes civilian casualties which our coalition nations, rightly, are very proud of,” Hesterman said.
Targeting ISIL, he said, is perhaps more challenging than ever before, but the coalition goes out of its way to protect innocent civilians, “because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s one of the things that separates us from the terrorists we’re fighting who kill anyone who isn’t them.”
ISIL can be targeted while still protecting civilians, Hesterman said.
Air Power’s Effectiveness
Hesterman noted coalition air power has not only been effective, but also has enabled “virtually every victory on the battlefield.”
It’s helped ground forces regain territory, he said, while removing more than 1,000 enemy fighters a month from the battlefield and eliminating the majority of ISIL’s oil refining capability.
More importantly, Hesterman said coalition air power is giving the Iraqi government and security forces the time necessary to prepare and execute sustained counter-ISIL offensives.
Coalition air power, he said, is giving all of the coalition nations the space and time to execute international lines of effort countering the flow of foreign fighters, ISIL financing and messaging, providing humanitarian assistance, and stabilizing liberated areas -- all necessary to defeat ISIL.
Different Type of Air Campaign
Hesterman emphasized the current air campaign is “a lot” different from previous campaigns.
“We’ve provided [an around-the-clock] presence over the battlefield to get after this enemy whenever we have the opportunity,” he said. “We go after this enemy wherever we find them.”
Hesterman added, “The comparisons being made to conflicts against field armies and nation-states don’t apply in this case, and the folks making them, frankly, haven’t been in a fight like the one that we’re in now.”
This enemy wrapped itself around a friendly population before the campaign even started, he said.
“There is no, and never has been, a well-developed target set for that which is necessary to do what we’ve done in the past,” Hesterman said. “It’s an order of magnitude more difficult than what we’ve done before. I can say that with a little bit of authority because I either participated in, or was well familiar with this, for about the last 32 years.”
The general lauded the “young men and women” of the multinational coalition risking their lives in the daily pursuit of ISIL “to give the world the time it needs” to galvanize the multiple lines of effort needed to ultimately defeat the terrorist group.
“They’re exceptionally proud of what they’re doing and their impact on the enemy,” he said. “I will tell you their superb ability to do it and the exceptionally limited civilian casualties are historic and [the operation] deserves the deep respect of every one of us.”
Hesterman said he’s proud of the coalition’s air team for what they’re accomplishing but noted this will be a “long fight.”
“There will be tactical setbacks that we should not give [ISIL] strategic victory credit for,” he said. “Be sure -- we in the coalition are fully committed to a strategic defeat of the … terrorists.”