It's been more than two months since America started dropping laser-guided freedom all over the Islamic State. But for some reason, the flowers of liberty aren't blooming in all those new holes we've dug in Iraq and Syria. Perhaps it's because we should bomb more shit, say two experts in talking about bombing shit.
Mark Gunzinger and John Stillion are senior fellows of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a serious-sounding think tank run by a serious-sounding man who seriously believes we could have won in Vietnam if we'd seriously just tried harder. In a new WSJ op-ed titled "The Unserious Air War Against ISIS," they lament "the apparent failure of airstrikes to halt the terror group's advances" and explain that we need to seriously consider raining more fire on the terrorists, or at least all around the terrorists:
While it is still too early to proclaim the air campaign against Islamic State a failure,
(This sort of undercuts the authors' description of airstrikes as a "failure" in their previous paragraph, as well as the entire existence of their op-ed, but let's move on.)
it may be instructive to compare it with other campaigns conducted by the U.S. military since the end of the Cold War that were deemed successes. For instance, during the 43-day Desert Storm air campaign against Saddam Hussein's forces in 1991, coalition fighters and bombers flew 48,224 strike sorties. This translates to roughly 1,100 sorties a day. Twelve years later, the 31-day air campaign that helped free Iraq from Saddam's government averaged more than 800 offensive sorties a day.
Quelle success! Saddam was toppled in 1991 and we never had to mess around with Iraq again. Until 2003, when we toppled him for real and never had to mess around with Iraq again.
By contrast, over the past two months U.S. aircraft and a small number of partner forces have conducted 412 total strikes in Iraq and Syria—an average of seven strikes a day. With Islamic State in control of an area approaching 50,000 square miles, it is easy to see why this level of effort has not had much impact on its operations.
So... the reason we haven't defeated an insurgent movement of several thousand religious fanatics spread across two countries is because we haven't bombed it like we bombed a conventional force of 650,000 Iraqi soldiers and hardware in a general state of war? Got it.
Of course, air operations during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom were each supported by a massive coalition force on the ground. Thus it may be more appropriate to compare current operations against Islamic State with the 78-day air campaign against Serbian forces and their proxies in 1999, or the 75-day air campaign in Afghanistan that was instrumental in forcing the Taliban out of power in 2001...
These air campaigns averaged 138 and 86 strike sorties a day respectively—orders of magnitude greater than the current tempo of operations against Islamic State.
That was some success, that successful bombing campaign of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Glad we never went back there.
— Jonathan Rue (@wjrue) October 15, 2014
The authors go on to muse over why we're not bombing more in Iraq and Syria now; maybe it's a "moral imperative and strategic desire to avoid civilian casualties and gratuitous collateral damage." Whatever the reason, it's stupid! This "timorous use of air power against Islamic State fighters" won't defeat them.
The only thing these guys understand is strength, see. One 2,500-pound guided bomb is "timorous." Fifteen bombs will gain their respect.
[Photo credit: AP Images]