A Month of Bombs Dropped in Two Days of Syria Strikes

U.S.-Led Coalition's Airstrikes
Syrians inspect the rubble of destroyed houses following the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on a residential area in Idlib, Syria, on Sept. 23, 2014. Photographer: Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The U.S. dropped almost as many bombs and missiles on Islamic State positions in Syria over the past two days as were used in the first month of attacks on the extremist group in Iraq.

The offensive two nights ago, joined by five Arab nations, used about 200 munitions, most precision-guided, as well as some of 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles that were launched from two warships, according to U.S. Central Command. At least three more strikes hit Islamic State targets in Syria yesterday and early today, according to the Defense Department.

Later today, U.S. and allied forces hit Islamic State oil facilities in eastern Syria in an effort to reduce the group’s revenue, according to a U.S. defense official who discussed the attacks on condition of anonymity.

The campaign in Syria already rivals the 253 bombs and missiles aimed at the Sunni terrorist group’s positions in neighboring Iraq from Aug. 8 to Sept. 10.

“We are striking through the depths of” Islamic State “formations because we are trying to disrupt their support bases,” Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday.

The first night of attacks hit compounds, storage facilities and even a finance center of Islamic State, which has seized a swath of Iraq and Syria. The more recent airstrikes included a staging area in Syria on the border with Iraq used by militants, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesman, told CNN in an interview today.

U.S. officials are assessing the damage yet believe the strikes have been “extremely successful,” Kirby said.

Mix of Targets

Army Colonel Steve Warren, also a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today that future attacks in Syria on Islamic State targets “will be a mix of what we’ve seen in Iraq,” with small individual targets such as vehicles and personnel formations as well as larger buildings

“Our ISR will allow us to develop more stationary targets that we can strike when we choose to,” Warren said, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights.

While U.S. officials provided limited details on the weapons used over Syria, the F-22 Raptor, a stealth fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., made its debut in warfare almost 11 years after it was declared combat-ready.

The attacks also counted on the Tactical Tomahawk, the newest version of the cruise missile made by Raytheon Co., which can be redirected in mid-flight.

“You fly it, and it can receive changes in targeting, changes in direction,” the Navy’s chief of operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, told reporters last year. “It can go up and actually loiter.”

Humvees, Roadside Bombs

The barrage dwarfed the airstrikes in Iraq so far under President Barack Obama, some of which took out targets as small as a single Humvee or a roadside bomb.

The expanding warfare in Iraq and tensions with Russia over Ukraine reflect a time of international turmoil that’s seen shares of U.S. defense companies -- including Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, the biggest -- approach record highs.

The Bloomberg Intelligence Defense Primes Peer Group, which tracks the top Pentagon contractors, has risen 19.3 percent this year, outperforming the 2.3 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Industrials Index.

“There’s an expectation that the U.S. needs to bolster defense spending because some of the challenges that we face are larger than” the Pentagon budget will provide, said Howard Rubel, a New York-based analyst with Jefferies LLC.

The first U.S. assaults on Syria fulfilled the prediction of Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who told a Senate hearing last week that the attacks “will not look like ‘shock and awe,’” the airstrikes that opened the Iraq War in March 2003.

Khorasan Group

In that campaign, the U.S. dispatched 2,000 sorties in the first 24 hours, dropping precision-guided weapons on about 1,500 targets. It involved as many as 600 cruise missiles, including more than 500 Tomahawks.

This time, the Navy fired 47 Tactical Tomahawks from ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Most of those were aimed not at Islamic State but at training camps and manufacturing shops of the Khorasan Group, a wing of al-Qaeda that Pentagon officials said was planning an attack on the U.S. homeland.

One Tomahawk fired from the USS Philippine Sea against an Islamic State finance center in Raqqa targeted the building’s rooftop communications gear, destroying it in an airburst rather than a direct hit, as documented in a photo that Mayville showed reporters.

Mayville disclosed the F-22’s first combat mission by showing a photo depicting damage it inflicted on part of an Islamic State command-and-control center in Raqqa.

‘Hangar Queen’

The fighter delivered munitions guided by Global Positioning System satellites against the facility, Mayville said. Designed as an air-to-air fighter with a secondary ground-attack mission, the F-22 is equipped to drop two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions made by Chicago-based Boeing Co.

It was vindication of sorts for a plane never before used in combat that Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in 2011 “may very well become the most expensive, corroding hangar queen ever in the history of modern aviation.”

In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, citing its limited utility, capped the F-22 program at 187 aircraft after $67.3 billion has been spent. Congress approved.

The Government Accountability Office said in March that the Air Force planned to spend $11.3 billion more to upgrade the jet and “address the aircraft’s reliability and structural problems.”

The air-dropped weapons used over Syria in the initial strikes weren’t disclosed. In Iraq, piloted aircraft have dropped Boeing’s GBU-54, a combined laser-and satellite-guided bomb. Predator drones have dropped Lockheed’s Hellfire laser-guided missile and a 13-pound warhead from Raytheon called the AGM-176 Griffin. GBU stands for Guided Bomb Unit, and AGM is the military acronym for Air-to-Ground Missile.

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