No Real Progress In the US-Led Air War Against ISIL – No Path To Victory Modest military effort. Very few air sorties, even fewer strikes

WASHINGTON – in 1999 NATO combat aircraft (with the US supplying most of the air power engaged) flew 38,000 air sorties during the 78 days Kosovo war. Of these 10,484 were strike sorties.

War against ISIL, very few sorties

In the current air war against ISIL, so far US and allied military aircraft have flown around 4,000 air sorties. Unofficial estimates indicate that at most 10% of these (about 400) are real bombing raids. (Look above and compare this insignificant number with the 10,484 strikes during the Kosovo air war. Several weeks into this much advertised campaign against ISIL targets in Iraq and now Syria, we are not even at 10% of the strikes conducted by NATO against Serbia over a period of 78 days).

The low ratio of strikes versus air sorties means that coalition combat jets fly over enemy held territory, but they do not see any worthwhile targets. And the identified targets that are hit are often very small and therefore unimportant: one vehicle here, one machine gun position there.

This is pitiful. No wonder that various witnesses on the ground in both Syria and in Iraq indicate that the air war is having modest or zero impact on ISIL’s war fighting capabilities.

ISIL protects its assets

Indeed, as the air war was announced in Washington, ISIL quickly moved its assets away from exposed areas. They have hidden their equipment, and they have abandoned training camps. Apparently quite often US airplanes destroyed empty buildings.

The official US view is that the air war stopped ISIL’s forward momentum. ISIL fighters now have to be cautious, moving at night, while hiding during the day. May be this is so.

But, so far, ISIL is not retreating. It still controls more or the less the same territory and cities in Iraq and Syria. Who is going to dislodge them?

Boots on the ground?

As we know, the international coalition led by the United States plans to train a patchwork of forces in Iraq and Syria. At some point these fighters will be ready to engage ISIL.

Well, good luck with that.

The “training record” so far is pretty bad. After years of efforts, in part because of the low morale created by the al Maliki sectarian government in Baghdad, the US-trained and US-equipped Iraqi army literally melted when ISIL attacked. The officers were the first to run away.

As for training Syrian rebels, to begin with it is a challenge to understand who is who and who can get along with whom in future combined military operations against ISIL, against Assad forces and other assorted players.


In any event, even assuming real chances of eventual success, (and this requires a heroic amount of optimism), it will be many months or longer before any of these units will be ready for combat. In the meantime, the air war continues –at a slow pace, with no visible results.

The fact that more countries have joined the US-led coalition is good political news. However, a handful of Danish or Belgian aircraft now engaged in combat missions is not what I would call a game-changer.

Given all this, one wonders what Obama’s end game is. I cannot believe that the US President is planning on winning the war, given this modest effort. But if victory is not the objective, what is the point of doing any of this?

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