Is U.S. More Selective in Air Strikes Against Islamic State Than Drone Strikes Elsewhere?

Nothing highlights the limits of air power more than when terrorist groups live among civilians. (Photo: AP / Flickr Commons)

Nothing highlights the limits of air power more than when terrorist groups live among civilians. (Photo: AP / Flickr Commons)

The United States and allied forces have sharply pulled in the reins on air strikes against the Islamic State. To give them the benefit of the doubt, that’s partly out of humanitarian concerns about killing civilians, but also because, as Eric Schmitt reports in the New York Times,

Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American-led coalition.

But

… many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, and that it illustrates the limitations of American air power in the Obama administration’s strategy.

To say U.S. commanders and their Iraqi counterparts, as well as U.S. pilots are frustrated, is apparently an understatement.

“In most cases, unless a general officer can look at a video picture from a U.A.V., over a satellite link, I cannot get authority to engage,” [an] A-10 pilot said, referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, and speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid punishment from his superiors. “It’s not uncommon to wait several hours overhead a suspected target for someone to make a decision to engage or not.”

Meanwhile

… many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, and that it illustrates the limitations of American air power in the Obama administration’s strategy.

Once again, ye olde limitations of air power rears its ugly head. Still, writes Schmitt

To be sure, the air campaign has achieved several successes in conducting about 4,200 strikes that have dropped about 14,000 bombs and other weapons. The campaign has killed an estimated 12,500 fighters and helped Iraqi forces regain about 25 percent of the territory seized in Iraq by the Islamic State, according to American military figures.

You can bet a lot of them are civilians.