U.S. Air Forces Central Command
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Southwest Asia, June 11, 2015 – At the hub for air operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, intelligence shows that coalition air power is making a difference in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists, the Combined Forces Air Component commander said recently.
“Since Aug. 8, coalition air power has significantly degraded [ISIL’s] ability to organize, project and sustain combat power while taking exceptional care to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” Air Force Lt. Gen. John Hesterman III said.
Coalition air power has helped ground forces regain territory, removed significant numbers of fighters from the battlefield, and eliminated the majority of ISIL oil refining capability, Hesterman added.
ISIL Once Parading, Now Hiding
“The success of coalition air power throughout this conflict is proven by [ISIL’s] response to our aircraft,” said Air Force Maj. John Easton, the Air Forces Central Command tactics officer.
“Early in the conflict, [ISIL] paraded themselves in open convoys and brazenly identified their positions with flags as many other fielded forces do,” Easton said. “Coalition air power’s ability to find and target the enemy was so successful that [ISIL] 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.”
Despite the changes in ISIL tactics, coalition forces continue to successfully integrate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance analysis to strike ISIL targets from the air, he said.
“As the enemy’s tactics change, so have our air power tactics, and we are still finding and eliminating [ISIL] fighters,” Easton said. “[ISIL] is very much afraid of our ability to strike them.”
The Power of Coalition
Each of the coalition nations offers something significant to the air power mission.
“The fact that we have a coalition working together and fighting this enemy is itself a demonstration of combined commitment and overall effectiveness against [ISIL],” said Royal Canadian Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrice Laroche, the Combined Air Operations Center director. “Arab, European, Asian, North American -– we all understand the importance of defeating [ISIL].”
Coalition air power is critical to enabling ground forces to get after the enemy, and Hesterman said that operators are all very proud of the contribution they are making, and should be.
“I expect my team to lean forward, and they are,” Hesterman said. “Not only has air power 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 [ISIL] financing; providing humanitarian assistance; countering [ISIL's] messaging; and stabilizing liberated areas, all of which will be necessary to finish [ISIL],” he said.
Not a Conventional Air Power Mission
Some critics have downplayed air power’s effectiveness and compared this conflict to Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but those are false comparisons, said CAOC Combat Operations director Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Haworth.
“While pilots struck large numbers of targets in Desert Storm and the opening days of OIF, those fights had extremely different and available target sets,” Haworth said.
“In previous campaigns, we were fighting against a conventional military that massed in the open, away from the civilian population,” he continued. “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.”
Haworth said ISIL leadership is on the defense because as it learns more about ISIL methods, the coalition finds more targets.
Army Capt. Matt Mraz, the Joint Personnel Recovery Cell deputy director, added that persistent air attack exploits ISIL’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,” Mraz said. “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 every day to go after the ISIL terrorists.
“They're exceptionally proud of what they're doing and their impact on the enemy,” Hesterman said. “They deserve the deep respect of every one of us.”