A direct hit. But by who?

Photographer: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

What the U.S. Bombed Before Ramadi Fell

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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In the month before the city of Ramadi in western Iraq fell, U.S. air strikes destroyed an armored personnel carrier, three humvees, three tanks, four mortars, four gun-mounted pick up trucks and two vehicle bombs belonging to the Islamic State outside the city. On Friday, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Fickel, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, shared this data with me, adding that the U.S. also hit 25 "fighting positions" and 14 pieces of "miscellaneous equipment." 

Fickel told me Centcom disputed aspects of my column on Thursday, which disclosed how U.S. intelligence agencies were able to observe the Islamic State's buildup of forces and equipment prior to the decisive battle, but the Pentagon "did not order airstrikes against the convoys before the battle started." (I spoke with Centcom before publishing that column, but was not given the information Fickel has since provided.)

Fickel said the data showed there were strikes on the Islamic State's "staging positions" prior to and during the battle, but he did not claim that convoys traveling on the open road to Ramadi were among the targets ahead of time. Nor did Fickel say what percentage of the overall equipment Islamic State forces brought to the battle was destroyed by U.S. air strikes.

In sum, the new Centcom data show there was 11 in and around Ramadi on May 15 and May 16, the days in which the Iraqi troops left their posts. In the crucial time before the jihadists' assault -- between May 3 and May 15 -- on only four days did the U.S. conduct air strikes against staging areas and Islamic State fighters.

Derek Harvey, a retired Army colonel who advised General David Petraeus on counterinsurgency strategy during the surge in Iraq, told me on Friday that the numbers of destroyed vehicles disclosed by Fickel represented a "dribble" compared with the overall force the Islamic State brought to Ramadi. 

"The strikes were measured, they left a lot of targets off the table that could have been struck," Harvey said. "Clearly we did not do enough to interdict, disrupt and defeat the enemy when they had to move across open space for the most part. And when it came to urban combat, we did not have the spotters in place that would have provided more accurate targets."

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To contact the author on this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net