The Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, instated March 30, 2016.[i] The first five medals were awarded by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on 18 April 2016.
Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve: The Air Campaign, Effectiveness, Part II
It has been over six months since the 13 November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. Russian involvement has significantly changed the situation in Syria, while the latest terrorist attack against the Brussels airport and metro-station on 22 March, in addition to the 19 March attacks in Istanbul, seem to suggest ongoing pressure from the Islamic State’s European terrorist network.
How has CENTCOM’s Operation Inherent Resolve and its vast air campaign developed since November 2015? According to US Department of Defense figures, since the beginning of the air campaign (dated to 8 August 2014), over $6.5 billion dollars has been spent ($11.4 million a day), with total coalition sorties, as of 28 March 2016, estimated at 87,940.[ii] Of those, 11,230 were strike missions, with 7,556 carried out in Iraq and 3,674 in Syria. Meanwhile, the White House, Pentagon, NATO, and Moscow have all been been keen to stress improvements, such as the recapture of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, at the end of 2015, or the capture of Palmyra, in Syria, by the Russian supported Syrian Army at the end of March 2016. Likewise, Baghdad, with US and NATO backing, is now preparing to begin an offensive against Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, and a major ISIL stronghold. Meanwhile, Kabul remains a target for terrorist attacks,[iii] and the broader War on Terror is expected to continue into 2018 at least. How has the enormous Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve’s air campaign effort been maintained by the Global Coalition in diplomatic and operational terms? How effective has it been over the last six months?
Diplomacy and Strategy: Maintaining the Coalition
On December 2, 2015 the UK parliament voted to expand the RAF mission to include Syria. That day, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a statement applauding the UK’s commitment, and also voiced approval of the 1,200 personnel committed by Germany.[iv] On 7 December, the Defense Department announced that it had killed Abu Nabil (aka, Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi), who was an Iraqi ISIL leader and operative in Libya. He had been targeted as part of a strike on 13 November.[v]
On 15 December, the DOD announced that as part of the broader anti-Terror strategy, including air-strikes against targets in Somalia, the US was prepared to maintain a force level of 9,800 personnel in Afghanistan, to transition to 5,500 after 2016.[vi]
Ash Carter and General Paul J. Selva, USAF, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify before the Senate Armed Service Committee on 9 December.
On 19 December, as part of a tour of US and Coalition naval forces in theatre, Ash Carter made a phone call to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi regarding what appeared to be a friendly-fire incident involving the death of Iraq Security Forces by Coalition airstrikes.[vii] That same day Carter visited the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle, then the flagship of the USN’s Central Command Task Force 50. Carter placed a phone call to French Minister of Defense, Jean Yves Le Drian, in which the two discussed the ongoing anti-ISIL mission and, significantly, the future role of Russia in Syria, as well as the position of Iran.[viii] Carter also met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain at the King’s residence, where they discussed counter-ISIL strategy.[ix]
On 22 December, Secretary of Defense Carter called Italy’s Defence Minister, Roberta Pinotti, to follow up on their meeting in Rome the previous October. In this phone call they discussed Italian commitments to Iraq and Libya.[x] Six days later, following the Christmas break, Carter made a statement congratulating Iraq’s Prime Minister for the recapture of Ramadi from ISIL forces.[xi]
Meanwhile, the Pentagon was confronted with the North Korean nuclear test of 6 January which caused a flurry of activity: Carter was in close communication with Japanese and South Korean Defence Ministries, as well as US Forces Command Korea to discuss responses.[xii] As a result of these developments, Brigadier General Tony D. Bauernfeind, the Deputy Commander Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan was transferred to Special Operations Command, Korea, as Commanding General.[xiii]
On 11 January, Carter met with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Pentagon. Together they discussed the situation in Syria and reaffirmed their mutual commitment to countering ISIL.[xiv]
Barack Obama and Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan work on the State of the Union Address while Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, looks on, seemingly exasperated. January 11, 2016.
On 13 January 2016, at 9:10 pm EST, US President Barack Obama gave his final State of the Union address to the joint session of Congress. In his address, the President described the efforts that had been made thus far to degrade and destroy ISIL and al Qaeda- while the President denied that the Long War against global terrorism represented a new “World War III”, he did acknowledge that the US led 60 member nation coalition had conducted over 10,000 air strikes. Obama once again asked the US Congress to pass a vote authorizing military action against ISIL.[xv] Earlier that day, Ash Carter made a statement thanking US Secretary of State John Kerry for negotiating the release of ten US Navy sailors held by Iran.[xvi]
The next day, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work traveled to Israel as part of a two-day trip to shore up US-Israeli defence commitments. During the trip, Work met with Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and the Director-General of Israeli Ministry of Defense Dan Harel, as well as Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin. In addition to broader discussion of regional strategy, the meeting emphasized US-Israeli technology cooperation, specifically the DOD’s Third Offset Strategy.[xvii] Work was scheduled to follow up this trip with another trip to the United Kingdom. While in Cheltenham and Hereford during January 14, 15, 16 and 17, the Deputy Secretary met with UK Minister of State for Defence Procurement, Philip Dunne, and discussed “global security issues, bilateral defence cooperation,” and other technical issues related to refocusing the UK’s defence establishment on cyber, special operation and technical innovation, following on the UK’s Strategic Defense and Security Review.[xviii]
On 18 January Ash Carter met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Pentagon, following a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The focus of the discussion was on Syria and Iraq, in addition to the ongoing crisis in the Asia-Pacific region. Carter expressed his desire to see continued Australian cooperation, in particular, Turnbull’s participation in the upcoming counter-ISIL coalition meeting in Paris.[xix]
January 19th, President Obama says goodbye to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull following a working lunch.
Next, Coalition partners, meeting in Paris, issued a joint statement on January 20th. The Defence Ministries of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and United States affirmed their commitment to accelerating the “C-ISIL/DAESH” mission. The joint statement confirmed that the coalition had gained momentum and was now preparing to move into, “its next phase targeting ISIL/DAESH vulnerabilities.” The statement emphasized that, while the military campaign was a critical component of the overall strategy, equally important would be ongoing political steps to ensure regional stability.[xx] A further meeting would take place in February.
Major re-shuffling of the Afghan-Iraq command occurred on 21 January. Major General Jay B. Silveria USAF was moved to deputy commander USAF Cent-Com, and, wearing a second hat, also became deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commander, Cent-Com (Southwest Asia). Brigadier General Jeffrey B. Taliaferro became Commander 9th Air And Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, as well as NATO C-in-C for Air Command-Afghanistan, in addition to deputy commander USAF-Afghanistan Central Command. Brigadier General Richard A. Coe, the deputy commander (air) for Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Iraq, and Joint Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq (for CJTF-OIR) was moved to the Inspector General position for HQ Air Combat Command in Langley Virginia. Brigadier General Coe was replaced by Col. Matthew C. Isler- promoted, Brigadier General- formerly of the 12th Flying Training Wing, Air Education and Training Command, San Antonio Texas. To support closer integration with UK forces, Brigadier General Chris M. Short, 57th Fighter Wing commander, became the defense attaché-UK, within the Defense Intelligence Agency.[xxi]
174th Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session, Brussels. General Sir Nicholas Houghton, UK Chief of Defence, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence, The Netherlands, and the Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, met on 21 January, 2016.
The next day, Ash Carter met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They reiterated their commitment to countering-ISIL, with Carter stressing the successes in the Ramadi operation.[xxii] The global coalition was preparing for a major summit in Brussels. Carter also met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, where they discussed the deployment of Afghanistan’s A-29 aircraft in the counter-Taliban campaign, and both looked forward to meeting again at the NATO summit in July to be held in Warsaw.[xxiii] The A-29 contract is worth $427 million, and will deliver 20 of the close attack planes by 2018.[xxiv]
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, US Secretary of Defense Ash B. Carter, the Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Office of the Prime Minister of Singapore, and Espen Barth Eide, Head of Geopolitical Affairs, World Economic Forum are seen discussing the Global Security Outlook at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 22nd January.
US President Barack Obama at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, January 22nd 2016
On 27 January, Carter announced that General John Campbell, C-in-C US Forces Afghanistan and Commander NATO Operation Resolute Support was to be replaced by Lt. General John Nicholson, former commander US 82nd Airborne Division and Chief of Staff for the International Security Assistance Force and US Forces Afghanistan.[xxv]
The following day the US and Russian Defense personnel consulted via video conference on further implementation of their “memorandum of understanding” designed to prevent flight accidents over Syrian airspace.[xxvi] The next day, 29 January, Ash Carter made a statement regarding the Dutch Minister of Defense, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert’s, decision to expand Dutch airstrikes over Syria. Carter looked forward to meeting with Hennis-Plasschaert, and the representative from the 26 nation military coalition, in two-weeks time in Brussels for the coalition’s Defence Ministerial conference.[xxvii]
January 29th: Major General Mark R. Stammer, C-in-C Combined Joint Task Force Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of Africa was replaced by Brigadier General Kurt L. Sonntag, formerly Special Operations Command South, US Southern Command.[xxviii] Brigadier General Scott A. Howell, promoted Major General, became commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.[xxix] On 5 February Colonel Daniel L. Simpson was promoted to Brigadier General and transferred from the National Security Agency to deputy director of intelligence, US Forces-Afghanistan, as well as assistant deputy chief of staff of intelligence to NATO HQ, Operation Resolute Support.[xxx] It is significant to note the number of intelligence officers being transferred to Afghanistan postings.
As of February 2nd, Lt. General Sean B. Macfarland, C-in-C CJTF-OIR had approximately 6,500 soldiers from 17 nations under his command in Iraq.[xxxi]
February 5th, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg photographed at the European Defence Ministers meeting.
On February 9th, President Obama sent Congress his Fiscal Year 2017 budget for $582.7 billion for the DOD. The budget was meant to reflect changes in the security situation, including, “Russian aggression, terrorism by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others, and China’s island building and claims of sovereignty in international waters”. The budget allowed for 460,000 soldiers in the Army, 335,000 soldiers in the National Guard, and 195,000 soldiers in the Army Reserve for 56 total brigade combat teams. The Marine Corps would consist of 182,000 marines and 38,5000 reservists. The Navy was to expand from 280 ships to 308 (over 5 years), with 380,900 active duty and reserve sailors. The USAF was to consist of 491,700 active duty, reserve and national guard airmen, for 55 tactical fighter squadrons.[xxxii]
February 10th, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Staff in bilateral meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Defense Secretary Carter met with Canadian Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan on 10 February during Carter’s visit to Brussels. Sajjan was thanked for his commitment to countering ISIL, including the extension of Canada’s role in aerial refueling and surveillance. Canada is also expanding its training and intelligence missions for Iraq.[xxxiii]
NATO Defence Ministers family portrait 10th February 2016, NATO HQ, Brussels.
On 11 February, Ash Carter met with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defense, Mohammed bin Salman, in Brussels. Both parties agreed on the importance of accelerating the counter-ISIL mission. Carter responded favorably to the Minister’s offer to expand Saudi Arabia’s role in the air campaign.[xxxiv]
On February 12th, Brigadier General Scott A. Kindsvater, formally the Assistant deputy commander USAF Central Command, became deputy commander-Operations and Intelligence, CJTF-OIR.[xxxv] Also on the 12th, Ash Carter met with United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Defense Affairs, Mohammed Al Bowardi, in Brussels. Carter “welcomed” the Minister’s willingness for the UAE to rejoin the coalition air campaign.[xxxvi] Further, on the 12th, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) members met at Munich to discuss a Cessation of Hostilities agreement.
February 15 was the beginning of the Syrian Democratic Forces operation to secure Shaddadi.[xxxvii] On 16 February Brigadier General Antonio M. Fletcher, formerly the special assistant to the commanding general, US Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, became deputy commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Brigadier General Robert P. Walters Jr., formerly the director of intelligence US Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base became deputy chief of staff, intelligence, Resolute Support Mission, NATO and director J-2, US Forces Afghanistan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel- continuing the trend of appointing intelligence officers to Afghanistan postings.[xxxviii]
The following day, Secretary of Defense Carter made a statement condemning the 17 February terrorist attacks in Ankara.[xxxix] On 19 February the DOD announced that it had conducted an airstrike on an ISIL training camp near Sabratha, Libya, targeting Noureddine Couchane (“Sabir”), a Tunisian, operating the ISIL training camp there.[xl] That same day, Brigadier General David W. Hicks (USAF) was transferred from vice commander First Air Force, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to Commander NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan, Operation Resolute Support.[xli] The following day the DOD admitted that two Serbian hostages held in Libya had been killed, although the Defense Department did not admit if it was responsible, or if these were reprisal killings for its 19 February airstrike.[xlii]
23rd February, President Obama and members of the national security team meet via video conference with Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and French President Francois Hollande to discuss the situation in Syria. From Obama’s right is Vice President Joseph Biden, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, Lisa Monaco, Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor, and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice.
ISW map estimating Taliban control in Afghanistan, 23 February 2016.[xliii]
On 23 February USMC Colonel William H. Seely III was promoted to Brigadier General, serving in the function of chief of staff USMC Cyberspace Command, Fort Meade, then deployed at the J-2 Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Iraq.[xliv]
February 25th, President Obama at a National Security Council meeting held at the US State Department to discuss the Counter-ISIL mission.
February 29th: the DOD held a video conference with Russian Defense officials concerning the ongoing US-Russia memorandum of understanding on flight safety over Syria.[xlv]
1st March 2016, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum.
March 4th, Barack Obama and members of the National Security Council discuss counter-terrorism, via video conference from the White House Situation Room, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. From the President’s right are Vice President Joseph Biden, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, Lisa Monaco, Peter Lavoy, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs, Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor, and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice.
Institute for the Study of War, ISIS Regional Campaign map showing major areas of operation, March 2016[xlvi]
On March 8th, Ash Carter met with German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, at the Pentagon. The two discussed the counter-ISIL mission, the situation in Ukraine, and Afghanistan, and Carter was pleased with Germany’s ongoing commitment to Operation Resolute Support.[xlvii] On 11 March the DOD announced that Army General Curtis M. Scaparrotti would succeed USAF General Breedlove as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.[xlviii] Scaparrotti had previously commanded the International Security and Assistance Force Afghanistan during the 2011-2012 surge.[xlix]
On 14 March, Carter met with Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon at the Pentagon. On March 15, the DOD appointed Major General Paul A. Ostrowski to deputy commanding general for support, Combined Security and Transition Command-Afghanistan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.[l] Likewise, Brigadier General Jeffery D. Broadwater, the deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division, was appointed the director CJ-35 for Resolute Support Mission, NATO, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, replacing Brigadier General Richard C. Kim. Brigadier General Broadwater traded postings with Brigadier General Joel K. Tyler, who had formerly been the director of operations for the CTJF-OIR.
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg conducts a briefing during his visit to Afghanistan with Chairman of the Military Committee, General Petr Pavel (left) and Operation Resolute Support Commander, General John Nicholson (centre), 14 March 2016.
March 18th, 2016. President Obama speaks with French President Francois Hollande and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel regarding the capture of Salah Abdeslam, a planner of the November 13 2015 Paris Terrorist attacks. Standing across from Obama is Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
On the 17th, the Pentagon released its 2017 Defense Posture Statement.[li] In that document, Defense Secretary Carter lamented the possible sequestration that would follow 2017, resulting in a $100 billion in cuts from 2018 to 2021. Carter acknowledged a dramatic shift in the global balance of power, suggesting that the concept of a return to great power politics may be a valid comparison. The Secretary of Defense stressed the importance of countering ISIL, “most immediately in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and also where it is metastasizing, in Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere”. Carter noted that the $7.5 billion budget for Operation Inherent Resolve would be “critical to continuing to implement and accelerate the coalition military campaign plan that the United States has developed”. The 2017 strategy would focus on destroying ISIL in Raqqa, in Syria, and Mosul, in Iraq.[lii]
The budget included the all important figure of $630 million for training and equipping the Iraqi Security Force, and another $250 million for “enabling Syrian anti-ISIL forces.”[liii] Significantly, only $41.7 million was earmarked for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Another $9 million was earmarked for other counter-ISIL operations in the Levant, and a further $166 million for the North and West African theatres. The DOD intended to spend another $1.8 billion to purchase over 45,000 GPS guided bombs due to the reduction in coalition stockpiles caused by the air campaign.[liv] A further $5.7 billion was earmarked for the increase of global daily unmanned air patrols form 70 to 90 by the end of 2018. These patrols would include “a mix of MQ-9 Reapers, Extended Range Reapers, and MQ-1C Advanced Gray Eagles” and require “60 patrols from the Air Force, 16 from the Army, and 14 that are government-owned and flown by contractors for the Air Force and US Special Operations Command”. The A-10 Thunderbolt II would continued flying until 2022, as the A-10s operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve flying out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey were deemed essential for the air campaign.[lv]
On March 19th the Pentagon announced the deployment of the XVIII Airborne Corps HQ to Kuwait, along with 450 soldiers, where the XVIII Airborne Corps would replace III Corps as the command HQ for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.[lvi]
On 22 March Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work met Danish Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Defense, Thomas Ahrenkiel, at the Pentagon, where they discussed the counter-ISIL campaign.[lvii]
22nd March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prepares to give a statement following the Brussels airport terrorist attacks.
On 24 March Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work hosted Norway’s Secretary for Defense, Oystein Bo, at the Pentagon, where the two discussed broader counter-ISIL strategy.[lviii] Secretary of Defense Ash Carter meanwhile called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defense, to discuss the situation in the middle-east and the counter-ISIL mission.[lix]
On 25 March Major General Christopher K. Haas became deputy chief of staff, Operations, Resolute Support Mission, having been transferred from his posting as director, force management and development, US Special Operations Command.[lx] Major General Hass replaced Major General Mark R. Quantock, who became director J-2 US Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base. Brigadier General Willard M. Burleson III, the director, Mission Command Center of Excellence, US Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, also became senior advisor to the Ministry of Defense, US Forces-Afghanistan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
March 25, Ash Carter and Marine Corps General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed reporters on counter-ISIL strategy.
On March 29th Ash Carter hosted the Estonian Defense Minister, Hannes Hanso, at the Pentagon to discuss Estonia’s support for “operations in Afghanistan, Africa, the Balkans, and importantly its support for the coalition’s counter-ISIL campaign.”[lxi] Naturally, Russia was another major item on the agenda.
On March 30th the Defense Department announced that service members who had been active in Iraq, Syria, or nearby water or airspace from June 15, 2014, onwards would be eligible to be awarded the newly implemented Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal.[lxii]
March 31st, President Obama hosts a working dinner with the heads of state and delegation members attending the Washington Nuclear Security Summit in the White House East Room.
On 31 March, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin, and Joint Staff Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Major General Steven M. Shepro, held a video conference from the Pentagon, with Russian MOD counterparts concerning the ongoing memorandum of understanding regarding flight safety over Syrian airspace.[lxiii]
April 1st, 2016. US President Barack Obama bids farewell to Chinese President XI Jinping at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit, Washington DC.
April 4th, President Obama and members of his national security team meet with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, in the Oval Office. To the right of the President are Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Seated in front of the camera, holding a highlighted document, is Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and right of Carter is Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor, and Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
President Obama shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their bilateral meeting on April 4th. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry visible in background.
April 4th, Barack Obama poses with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office following their bilateral meeting.
President Obama also met with his National Security Team and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on April 5th and issued a statement in which he stressed the need to continue accelerating the air campaign, which he credited with cutting critical the Raqqa-Mosul supply line.[lxiv]
On 14 April, the DOD announced that Brigadier General Dennis S. McKean, formerly the commandant US Army Armor School, would become the chief, Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq, US Central Command.[lxv]
On April 13, President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, CIA Director Brennan, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford made a statement on the coalition’s anti-ISIL strategy.[lxvi] Speaking from the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, President Obama stated that the Islamic State is now on the defensive. The President noted successes in Anbar province, Iraq, especially around Hit. The President also pointed to gains made in Syria at al-Shaddadi, including the cutting of the supply corridor between Raqqah and Mosul. “In other words,” said the President, “the ISIL core in Syria and Iraq continues to shrink,” with ISIL fighters estimated to be in their lowest numbers in two years. Meanwhile, Obama pointed to diplomatic efforts about to resume in Geneva, seeking a conclusion to the Syrian civil war.[lxvii]
On April 16th, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration was planning to accelerate its anti-ISIL campaign by increasing the deployment of Special Operations forces to Syria, as well as Army helicopters to Iraq. “Dozens” of SOF soldiers were to be added, to the 50 currently working inside Syria, up to as many as 200. The SOF were expected to provide support for the planned operation against Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, while the Army’s Apache helicopter gunships (which Iraq’s government had refused in December 2015)[lxviii] would support the planned future operation to capture Mosul.[lxix] Ash Carter, meanwhile, was in Al Dhafra air base for a tour of the Middle East. There were approximately 5,000 US service members in Iraq at the time. The coalition was now transitioning to its second phase of operations.
Ash Carter meets with Global Hawk pilots during his tour of Iraq, April 17, 2016.
Operations and Tactics: Executing the Mission
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters training in Irbil Iraq, October 11 2015.
During airstrikes carried out on 13 November 2015, nine coalition strikes were carried out against ISIL units near Ramadi, while other strikes near Ramadi destroyed 16 buildings, two weapons caches, six ISIL fighting positions, two light machine guns, an ISIL rocket launcher and two sniper positions. Also targeted and destroyed were five vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), a staging area, two heavy machine guns, two command and control positions, a supply cache, an ISIL vehicle, another fighting position, plus damage was done to an ISIL controlled road.[lxx]
As part of Operation Tidal Wave II (the targeting of ISIL controlled oil assets), 116 fuel trucks were destroyed near Abu Kamal, Syria on November 15.[lxxi]
In the above image a PGM (precision guided munition) can be seen moments before it destroys an ISIL fuel truck. In the image below, incoming cannon rounds from the attacking A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft can be seen a split second before destroying another truck.[lxxii]
On November 18th coalition airstrikes destroyed a bridge leading to Ramadi.[lxxiii]
On November 19 the coalition conducted three strikes near Kisik , Iraq, destroying four LMGs, two vehicles and two supply caches. [lxxiv] That same day the coalition destroyed an ISIL anti-air emplacement near Fallujah.[lxxv]
Shortly afterwards, on November 24, the CJTF-OIR youtube page uploaded video highlighting the destruction of 283 ISIL fuel trucks during November 22, near Al Hassakah and Dayr Az Zawr Syria.[lxxvi] The images above show a small sample of the trucks, parked end-to-end in a huge circle, being decimated by A-10 cannon strikes.
On the 24th of November the coalition destroyed a homemade exposive (HME) cache near Ramadi. On December 1st the coalition targeted a VBIED factory near Al Qaim, Iraq, and destroyed it, following that up with airstrikes the next day that destroyed two VBIEDs near Ramadi.[lxxvii]
The photo above shows the VBIED factory before its destruction, while the colour before and after screen captures (below) show the destruction of VBIEDs near Ramadi.
On December 5, the coalition destroyed five ISIL oil wellheads near Dayr Az Zawr, Syria.[lxxviii] PGM circled.
Two VBIED factories near Qayyarah Iraq were targeted on December 7th and 10th, and a logistics factory was also hit.[lxxix]
On December 9, six strikes were carried out near Ramadi, destroying 2 ISIL boats used to cross the Euphrates, as well as two “tactical units” and five “fighting positions” and three weapons caches.[lxxx] Further strikes were carried out at Ramadi on 13 December, destroying multiple ISIL controlled buildings.[lxxxi] These were only a small sample of broader coalition strike missions, which included hundreds of attacks on a monthly bases. Multiple strikes were carried out every day.
On 15 December coalition airstrikes hit Al Qaim, Iraq, destroying an HQ building, an IED factory and a VBIED factory.[lxxxii]
During December 16-17 multiple strikes were carried out at Mosul, pulverizing ISIL positions and vehicles.[lxxxiii] More strikes were carried out on 20 December.[lxxxiv]
On 21 December six USAF personnel were killed when they were attacked while on patrol by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle at Bagram Air Base in Afhganistan. [lxxxv] Another two services members were injured as was a US contractor.[lxxxvi] These soldiers had been operating as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
On December 24 the coalition continued to hammer ISIL oil assets near Dayr Az Zawr, Syria. In sum 11 strikes were carried out in Syria that day followed by 19 strikes in Iraq.[lxxxvii] Cave complexes around Al Baghdadi were targeted, as shown in the image below.[lxxxviii]
On December 25-26 the coalition targeted ISIL controlled bridges near Tal Afar, Iraq.[lxxxix]
On December 28th the ISF recaptured portions of Ramadi, raising the Iraqi flag over the rubble of a government building.[xc]
On December 29 the New York Times reported that Iraqi Security Forces had recaptured Ramadi- one the heaviest bombed cities during the December air campaign.[xci] By this point the CJTF-OIR had trained 15,892 ISF forces with another 4,200 in training.
This chart shows the number of times a respective area was targeted, according to CJTF-OIR website press releases for December 2015, providing an indication of the scale of daily and monthly attacks. It is important to recognize that these figures do not include the hundreds of sorties and strikes carried out by Russian aircraft during the same period.[xcii]
Further strikes against the Dayr Az Zawr oilfields occurred on December 29.[xciii] Additional strikes were carried out against Mosul,[xciv] and further attacks hit the Abu Kamal bridge, Syria, on January 1st.[xcv] The various oil works at Dayr Az Zawr were targeted again on 2 January.[xcvi]
Ramadi was subjected to additional airstrikes on 5 January.[xcvii] A PGM seen here moments before obliterating an ISIL controlled building.
On 6 January 2016 the DOD announced the death of Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), who was killed in Marjah District, Afghanistan, during a firefight as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.[xcviii]
French F-2 Rafale flies over Iraq on 8 January.[xcix]
On January 10 a bridge at Tal Afar was destroyed.[c] Mosul was again targeted on January 11, this time an ISIL controlled bank and mint was targeted. This was the beginning of a shift in focus towards targeting central Mosul, in particular, ISIL’s financial assets. Other buildings were also targeted, again, dozens of strikes were carried out each day.[ci]
Kisik, Iraq was bombed on January 12th.[cii] The following day an IED factory at Hit, Iraq was bombed.[ciii] Mosul was again the targeted of bombing on 15 January, PGM circled.[civ]
Mosul was bombed again on the 18th: you can see approximately seven separate bombs hitting the same target in the video posted on the CJTF-OIR youtube page, before the structure collapses- significantly this would only count as part of one “strike” in the vernacular of the US Defense Department.[cv]
On January 17 the DOD announced the death of Major John D. Gerrie who was killed in “a non-combat related incident” on January 16th while involved in Operation Inherent Resolve- the US Central Command’s anti-ISIL campaign.[cvi] The casualty had initially been attributed to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, but was re-categorized as an OIR loss on January 22.
On January 25 airstrikes near Mar’a, Syria, destroyed another ISIL HQ building.[cvii] On 28 January an ISIL controlled communication array in Mosul was destroyed.[cviii]
On 29 January the DOD announced the death of Sgt. Joseph F. Stifter, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, when his HMMWV rolled over near Al Asad Airbase, Al Anbar Province, during activity supporting Operation Inherent Resolve on 28 January.[cix]
Map showing territory lost to the Islamic State by February 2016.
Meanwhile, during the end of January, and the first week of February, Russia flew 468 sorties in Syria, destroying 1,354 facilities in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, Homs, Damascus, Raqqa, Daraa, and Deir-ez-Zor.[cx]
ISW map showing Russian airstrikes in Syria, February to March 2016.[cxi]
A series of coalition strikes were carried out on 2 February. The oil fields at Dayr Az Zawr, Syria were targeted again. Then ISIL positions at Manbij, Syria were bombed.
Further heavy airstrikes were carried out on 13 February. Mosul was bombed again: see the before and after comparison below.[cxii] Several major buildings were destroyed, again note the multiple bomb impacts.[cxiii]
Abu Kamal, Syria, was bombed on 15 February, targeting weapon storage.[cxiv] ISIL barracks and vehicles were also targeted.[cxv]
The Dayr Az Zawr oil and gas plants were bombed again on 19 February.[cxvi] On 20 February ISIL positions near Al Hasakah Syria were bombed.[cxvii] Additional strikes against Al Hasakah were conducted on 21 February.[cxviii] Bridges at Dayr Az Zawr, Syria, were bombed on 21-22 February, and further wellhead strikes took place.[cxix]
An IED factory near Al Qaim, Iraq, was bombed on February 24th.[cxx]
On 25 February an oil separation facility at Abu Kamal, Syria was hit.[cxxi]
Fallujah, one of the major ISIL control-points in Iraq, was targeted on 29 February, where an ISIL weapons storage facility was bombed.[cxxii] Also on the 29th, a VBIED was destroyed at Manbij, Syria.[cxxiii]
On 1 March another VBIED and a weapons storage warehouse at Mosul were destroyed.[cxxiv] The PGM can be seen before a series of explosions obliterates the warehouse in the images below.
An ISIL technical was destroyed at Ramadi on 2 March.[cxxv] On 3 March, Syrian President Bashir al-Asad’s forces recaptured the strategic city of Palmyra, a major turning point in the Syrian Civil War. On 4 March, the DOD carried out an airstrike at al Shaddadi, Syria, targeting senior ISIL leader Tarkhan Tayumurazovish Batirashvili, aka, Abu Umar al-Shishani, or Omar the Chechen, a senior member of the Islamic State’s war council. Omar the Chechen had been targeted as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.[cxxvi]
US Navy F/A-18 Hornets fly over Iraq on 3 March 2016.
On 5 March ISIL vehicles were bombed at Manbij, Syria, while a weapons facility at Hit, Iraq, was also bombed.[cxxvii]
On 7 March the DOD announced that on March 5th it conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab’s training camp in Raso, Somalia with manned and unmanned aircraft.[cxxviii]
ISIL positions at Mar’a were targeted on 8 March.[cxxix] An ISIL vehicle was also destroyed at Mar’a on 11 March.[cxxx]
ISIL positions at Hit, Iraq, were bombed on 12 March.[cxxxi] At least two IED factories at Mosul was destroyed on 14 March.[cxxxii] In the video, multiple PGMs can be seen hitting the targets, before secondary explosions completely destroy them.[cxxxiii]
Another ISIL vehicle was destroyed near Hit, Iraq on 15 March.[cxxxiv] Also on 15 March, it was reported that Russia would begin a phased withdrawal of its forces from Syria, following the success of pro-regime forces at Palmyra. Russia was expected to maintain a reserve presence in support of the Syrian Army.
On 19 March the coalition dropped bombs on an ISIL HQ building in Mosul.[cxxxv] Also on 19 March, Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was killed while “providing force protection fire support” near Makhmur, Northern Iraq, when their fire base was attacked by ISIL rockets.[cxxxvi] Several other marines were wounded in the attack. The Pentagon noted that this was the second combat fatality since the start of OIR.[cxxxvii] On 21 March, the Pentagon admitted it had formed a USMC base in northern Iraq, staffed by 100 to 200 marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.[cxxxviii]
On 22 March the DOD announced that it had conducted an airstrike in Yemen against an al-Qa’ida training camp, then being used by more than 70 militants training with the al-Qa’iada in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[cxxxix]
On 23 March the coalition carried out multiple strikes at Qayyarah, Iraq; where a radio tower and other communication facilities were demolished.[cxl] An ISIL vehicle was also destroyed at Al Hawl, Syria.[cxli] The bridge at Qayyarah was again targeted on 24 March, destroying a large part of it.[cxlii]
Afghan tactical air controllers call in practice strikes at a training range in Kabul, 27 March. Czech Republic air advisors look on.
An ISIL barracks and a safehouse, at Hit, Iraq were bombed on March 28th.[cxliii] The next day an HQ building in Hit was destroyed.[cxliv] Further strikes at Hit on 31 March destroyed a VBIED.[cxlv]
On 31 March the DOD carried out an airstrike in Somalia, targeting Hassan Ali Dhoore, a senior al-Shabaab agent within the organization’s Amniyat (security and intelligence) wing.[cxlvi]
Institute for the Study of War map showing estimated ISIL control in Syria and Iraq on 31 March.[cxlvii]
On 1 April a weapons cache at Qayyarah was bombed.[cxlviii] A bridge at Hit was bombed on 2 April.[cxlix] On 3 April a VBIED was destroyed near Shadaddi, Syria.[cl] In the video, the vehicle can be seen racing down a road before it is surrounded by cannon fire and explodes in a huge fireball.
On April 7, the Pentagon announced that it had killed Abu Zubary al-Bosni near Bajar, a Swedish fighter, and Khalid Osman Timayare, the “deputy emir of the Anwar al-Awlaki Brigade,” also a Swedish national, was killed at Ar Rayhaniyah.[cli] By this point in the Shaddadi offensive, 6,100 square kilometers had been recaptured, and the coalition had conducted over 209 strike missions, “killing hundreds of enemy fighters.”[clii]
A number of attacks were carried out on April 8. In Syria, remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) carried out eight strikes, one at Hawl and seven at Mara. In Iraq, fighter aircraft and attack planes, supported by RPAs, bombed targets at Huwayjah, where an HMG was destroyed, at Fallujah, and at Hit, where two HMGs were destroyed, as well as a recoilless rifle, a supply cache, a boat and two vehicles. At Kirkuk two strikes destroyed an ISIL bunker, two vehicles and seven rocket systems plus a VBIED. At Mosul, seven strikes destroyed various targets including a VBIED manufacturing plant and a supply cache. At Qayyarah eight ISIL positions were bombed. Near Sinjar two supply caches were destroyed. At Sultan Abdallah a supply cache was destroyed and an assembly area bombed.[cliii]
Iraqi HMMWV fires TOW missile in Hit during fighting early in April.
On April 9th, attack aircraft carried out two strikes in Syria, one bombing the Dayr Az Zawr oil separation plant. At Manbij, a strike destroyed ISIL artillery and rocket systems. 21 strikes were conducted in Iraq. An ISIL HMG was bombed at Huwayjah. 22 rockets and two “rocket rails” were destroyed at Albu Hayat. An ISIL mortar system and vehicle were destroyed near Habbaniyah. At Haditha an ISIL tactical unit and fighting positions were bombed. At Hit four strikes were carried out, destroying an HMG, an artillery piece, and anti-aircraft piece and 30 boats and one vehicle. At Kirkuk a fighting position was bombed. At Kisik two strikes hit an ISIL “command and control node”. At Mosul three strikes were carried out, destroying additional buildings and three rocket systems. An ISIL HQ building was bombed at Tal Afar, and at Qayyarah four strikes destroyed weapons facilities and two ISIL VBIEDs were also destroyed.[cliv] This level of destruction was typical for the entire period, November 2015 to April 2016.
On April 9, B-52 bombers operating out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar began operations as part of the CJTF-OIR effort, signaling a dramatic expansion of the air war.[clv]
On 10 April one strike was carried out at Raqqah, Syria, and 24 strikes were conducted in Iraq. Qayyarah was bombed 3 times, destroying two boats and a vehicle. Mosul was bombed eight times, destroying five communications facilities, two vehicles and a boat. Kirkuk was hit four times, destroying two ISIL HMGs, and a supply cache, amongst other areas and targets bombed.[clvi]
On 11 April the coalition carried out five strikes in Syria and 13 strikes in Iraq. On 14 April four strikes were conducted in Syria, at Hawl, Raqqah, and Ma’ra in Syria; while 17 strikes were carried out in Iraq, at Hit, four machine gun positions were destroyed, a boat and boat dock, an ISIL vehicle, and a command position were all bombed. In Kisik two ISIL units were destroyed as well as a bunker. At Mosul, a VBIED and a storage facility were destroyed. At Qayyarah, an HQ unit and financial centre were bombed. Near Sultan Abdallah two strikes destroyed seven ISIL boats and a mortar position. Another mortar was bombed at Tal Afar.[clvii]
US Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers deployed to Turkey to support the OIR air campaign, starting on 14 April.[clviii]
On April 14th, the New York Times reported that a team of Italian engineering specialists had arrived to work on repairing the Mosul dam, recaptured from ISIL in 2014, which earlier in the year CJTF-OIR commander Lt. General Macfarland described as a serious humanitarian disaster waiting to happen should it collapse.[clix]
The A-29 Super Tucano airplanes, flown by USAF trained Afghan Air Force pilots, went into action on 15 April.[clx] Also on 15 April Airman First Class Nathaniel H. McDavitt, operating at part of Operation Inherent Resolve, was killed when the building he had been working in collapsed as a result of high winds.[clxi]
Strikes carried out the week of 9 to 15 April.
On 18 April, Reuters newswire reported that the previous day, the coalition had conducted 20 airstrikes against IS militants in Syria and Iraq. Three strikes targeted two anti-aircraft pieces in Syria, and in Iraq, 17 strikes hit near eight different cities, destroying a weapons cache, communications facility, and safe house, a mortar position, a boat and a rocket team; basically par for the course in the ever increasing tempo of air operations.[clxii]
The coalition has dramatically accelerated its bombing campaign, conducting round-the-clock operations in Syria and Iraq. In the current phase of operations, heavy airstrikes are conducted daily against the major IS cities of Mosul, starting in February 2016, and the focus is now shifting to the IS capital, Raqqah, in Syria. More assets have been deployed to increase the pressure, including, in April, B-52 Stratofortress bombers, signaling a major escalation. The diplomatic and military effort to keep the coalition dedicated has yielded some results, with nations pledging either increased or continued support. However, by far the majority of strikes remain USAF led. The Russian campaign in Syria has been carefully orchestrated to prevent a conflict with coalition aircraft operating in the area, and is expected to maintain pressure if not at the tempo that had been carried out when Russia first intervened. President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conference on April 18, and both parties agreed to “increase coordination” in the Syrian air campaign.[clxiii]
Meanwhile, NATO and US coalition airstrikes are carried out in Afghanistan- as part of Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel- as well as in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya as part of the broader anti-al Qaida, anti-ISIL campaign. The US, NATO and the coalition have confirmed their intent to maintain troop presence in Afghanistan, and increasing deployments are being made to Iraq, where the US has suffered a handful of casualties, including combat fatalities. As a result of all this devastation from the air, the coalition has noticed a significant decrease of ISIL activity in Afghanistan.[clxiv] If true, this represents a major turning point since, in January 2016, the incoming Operation Resolute Support commander Lt. General John W. Nicholson described the situation in Afghanistan as “deteriorating” in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on January 28th.[clxv]
Operation Inherent Resolve staff estimates suggest that the Islamic State has lost 40% of its former Syrian and Iraqi territory, with the CJTF-OIR spokesman stating that ISIL was “weakened” and efforts were now shifting to focus on fracturing the terrorist group.[clxvi] However, the OIR spokesman also pointed to the Iraqi Security Forces defensive posture at Fallujah, and noted that ISIL forces are putting up the staunchest resistance yet experienced, despite having suffered over 500 deaths from over 21 airstrikes in Iraq in the last week.[clxvii] At this time the coalition of nations involved in targeting ISIL in Iraq include the US, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In Syria, strikes have been carried out by the US, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The Combined Forces Air Component Commander Air Power Statistics for March 2016 show large increases in overall sorties and, significantly, in strikes, from November through to February, with March still showing an overall increase over the preceding year.[clxviii]
In the following phase of operations, the focus will shift to further pulverizing Mosul and Raqqa, while the diplomatic agenda will accelerate to secure the modest gains made over the past six months. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if the ISF and coalition aligned Syrian forces can operate on the scale necessary to conduct the large-scale offensives required for Mosul or Raqqa, and the increasingly combat orientated presence of US Special Forces and Marines seems to suggest skepticism regarding the success of the training regime. The arrival of additional coalition, USAF, Army and USMC air assets, including Apache helicopters and other close attack aircraft, not to mention the B-52s, no doubt heralds a further expansion of the air war in the future.
[xii] http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/641779/dod-identifies-army-casualty ; http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/641725/readout-of-secretary-of-defense-carters-call-with-republic-of-korea-defense-min
[lii] http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017DODPOSTURE_FINAL_MAR17UpdatePage4_WEB.PDF , p. 12
[liii] http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017DODPOSTURE_FINAL_MAR17UpdatePage4_WEB.PDF , p. 13
[liv] http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017DODPOSTURE_FINAL_MAR17UpdatePage4_WEB.PDF , p. 16
[lv] http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017DODPOSTURE_FINAL_MAR17UpdatePage4_WEB.PDF , p. 16 – 17
[lxxix] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spwHT0UfG2U ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz11ORkQxwY