Record Bombing of Islamic State Tallied by U.S. Air Force

  • 3,271 weapons dropped in November were double the low in June
  • Almost 32,000 were dropped over Syria, Iraq through November

What Obama Said and Didn't Say in Oval Office Address

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State last month dropped the most bombs in its 16-month campaign in Iraq and Syria, according to new Air Force data.

The 3,271 munitions used in November were almost double the 1,683 in June, the low point of this year. They bring to almost 32,000 the weapons -- most of them precision-guided -- dropped by fighters, B-1B bombers and drones in almost 11,000 combat sorties since August 2014, according to statistics compiled by U.S. Air Forces Central Command that were obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of publication.

President Barack Obama has defended his strategy for combating Islamic State against criticism from Republicans in Congress and in the presidential campaign who say he’s not being aggressive enough in the fight. Demands for a change in strategy increased after the terrorist attacks in Paris last month and the shooting rampage that killed 14 people in California on Wednesday, which is being treated by the FBI as a terrorism investigation.

“In Iraq and Syria, air strikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure,” Obama said in a televised address from the Oval Office on Sunday night, using an acronym for Islamic State. “And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.”

While Gulf states in the U.S.-led coalition have flown relatively few airstrikes, the U.K. has expanded its bombing beyond Iraq into Syria, and France has dispatched its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, into the eastern Mediterranean as a launchpad for airstrikes into Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter also has announced creation of a U.S. “expeditionary targeting force” that can conduct special operations in Iraq and Syria as part of what Obama has called an intensification of his strategy.

No U.S. official has suggested airstrikes or special operations alone would degrade and eventually destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria without capable indigenous forces to assault and hold cities such as Sinjar, and eventually Ramadi and Mosul, and restore governance.

The battle against Islamic State isn’t succeeding and more needs to be done to address the threat, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We’re not winning but it’s too soon to say that we are doing everything we need to do,” she said. “We have to fight them in the air. We have to fight them on ground and we have to fight on the Internet. And we have to do everything we can with our friends and partners around the world to protect ourselves.”

The airstrikes began over Iraq in August 2014 and expanded into Syria the next month. Since then, the U.S.-led coalition has dropped 20,600 munitions on targets in Iraq and 11,000 in Syria. One of the 3,271 munitions dropped last month was a laser-guided Hellfire missile fired at a vehicle in Syria carrying British citizen Mohamed Emwazi , the Islamic State extremist known as “Jihadi John.”

In the most intense week of bombing, 980 weapons were dropped from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17, including accelerated attacks on Islamic State oil infrastructure, support for an Iraqi counterattack near Ramadi and a Kurdish counterattack in Sinjar as well as the French airstrikes after the Paris attacks, Air Force Lieutenant General Charles Brown, head of the coalition air campaign, said in an e-mail.

The goal of airstrikes largely has been to blunt Islamic State’s capability to take additional territory, roll back its gains, destroy equipment and personnel and provide support for Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces. The U.S. also is focusing on efforts to find and kill Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has gone into hiding, an Obama administration official said.

Munitions’ Cost

The munitions dropped by the U.S. in airstrikes so far have cost $1.2 billion, or 23 percent of the $5.2 billion spent on operations against Islamic State, according to Pentagon statistics. Most of the weapons were made by Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co.

Fewer coalition planes are returning without dropping bombs. In November, 65 percent of missions led to bombs being dropped, up from about half in July and August, Brown said.

“We’ve been fine-tuning our targeting process,” and that’s allowing the coalition to generate strikes that have more impact, Brown said. More important than the numbers of munitions dropped is the “impact and effect we have” on Islamic State.

Also speaking on “This Week,” Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush criticized the cautiousness of past airstrike campaigns that he said didn’t drop bombs out of concern for civilian casualties. “The United States will always adhere to the international standards of war, but this administration has imposed even greater challenges,” he said.

Russia has said its separate campaign of airstrikes backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has more hit key targets, such as oil trucks, since it began its campaign in September.

Colonel Steve Warren, the Pentagon’s top spokesman in Iraq, has called the claims exaggerated and said that Russia’s “sloppy military work” has led to more civilian deaths.

(An earlier update of this story was corrected because the headline erroneously attributed the data to the U.S. Army rather than the Air Force.)

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