US airstrikes have had ‘a very temporary effect’ on Islamic State

In a Defense Department press briefing yesterday, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville, the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an update on the US air operations to relieve ethnic minority Yazidis in the Sinjar area in northern Iraq, as well as airstrikes against Islamic State forces threatening the Yazidis and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

Mayville was clear that US air operations so far have had minimal impact on the Islamic State’s operations in northern Iraq. He gave a “ballpark figure” of the number of sorties a day as “between 50 and 60.” Mayville is clear that he does not believe the US air campaign in its current form will have a strategic affect on the Islamic State’s operations in northern Iraq, let alone elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, where the group has made significant gains over the past year.

The general notes that the Islamic State forces in areas where the US is operating have begun to change their tactics somewhat by dispersing their fighters and hiding among the local population. This has made US targeting of the group even more difficult, he notes.

“[O]ne of the things that we have seen with the ISIL forces is that where they have been in the open, they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people,” he said.

Mayville also gives grudging praise of the Islamic State’s tactical prowess, stating that the jihadist group’s “ability to attack on multiple axes … is not insignificant.”

Two questions and answers are reproduced below. The entire briefing can be read here.

Q: (OFF-MIC) retreating (OFF-MIC) seeing signs of retreat or picking up chatter that they’re panicking or wondering…

LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: You’re talking about ISIL forces? Look, I think, in the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And — but I — and — and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.

Q: Beyond the limited scope of this operation, how do you assess the military capabilities of ISIL throughout Iraq and Syria? And, also, are you concerned about the political — internal political conflict in Baghdad? As you may know, there’s a new prime minister. The current prime minister, Maliki, has refused to step down. Do you think this conflict could affect your mission in Iraq?

LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah, I’m very concerned about the threat posed by ISIL in — in Iraq and in the region. They’re very well-organized. They are very well-equipped. They coordinate their operations. And they have thus far shown the ability to attack on multiple axes. This is not insignificant.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Rudy Haugeneder says:

    Now that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-ruled government supported and controlled extremists — the Islamic State (IS) — is sweeping across Iraq and Syria and may soon to engulf other Middle East and North African Muslim nations, the Western world, which Turkey is also part of, has begun looking to Iran as a military and economic bulwark in protecting their interests. As the Islamic State hordes expand, perhaps even Israel may find it in its interests to unofficially align itself with Iran.
    IS is like the 13th Century Mongol Empire led by Genghis Khan notorious for his use of brutal mass terror on his enemies. Defeating the will of the enemy was a top Mongol priority. Before attacking a town or city, the Mongol generals demanded submission to the Khan, and threatened them with complete destruction if they refused to surrender. After winning, the Mongols fulfilled their threats and massacred the survivors. Tales of the encroaching horde spread to the next villages and created an aura of insecurity that undermined the possibility of future resistance.

  • @whikrm says:

    The U.S. first needs to wait for the Iraqis to buckle under the threat of the I.S. & bow to U.S. demands to form an inclusive, non-partisan govt. and then all that needs to be done is set-up a base with a small air-field deep in Kurdish territory, with a few hundred strong Rangers or Marines providing security for the base. The base should house about 30 Apaches that conduct intensive, offensive, patrolling for all over northern Iraq & also the Iraq-Syria border to terminate all elements of the enemy force. Our embedded ‘advisors’ with the Kurdish forces can help co-ordinate the attacks. Couple of S.A.R. teams to back-up the overall OP area.
    This IMHO is the safest way to break the I.S.
    This would provide clear, precision, strikes. Better than what even the drones can provide. Operations may even be expanded into cities like Tikrit, Mosul, etc. with minimum colateral damage, the urban populations will not turn hostile towards us either.
    The Kurds will have a chance to proove how important they are to the greater good of the Iraqis & so may be allowed to play a larger role in its political sphere.[Kurdistan need to be cultivated and turned into an economically prosperous and militarily strong ally vis-a-vis Israel. Right in the heart of a volatile region, but that should be a longer term plan.]

  • Stephanie says:

    What bothered me the most about the US response to the situation in Iraq was that the President promised unequivocally under no circumstances would the US get back into war in Iraq, which seems incredibly unwise considering that you have to adjust your response based on the changing / escalating situation. What is happening in Iraq is – no exaggeration – an EMERGENCY. Yazidis are trapped on a mountain and dying, Christians are being driven from their homes, and the brutal ISIS is advancing forcefully and spreading with no one lifting a finger to stop them. No one likes war and no one wants to be at war, but you have to respond to the situation, and OF COURSE the administration’s token airstrikes aren’t going to help much. I can’t think of circumstances that warrant US involvement more, and right now the President seems more concerned with stubbornly standing by his policy of not getting involved in Iraq than addressing the unfolding emergency.

  • chris says:

    Both Britian and France have shown interest in ground troops , France has been aggressive in MAli. Perhaps Europe may finally see the threat of Isis and also use this situation as a way to train to confront Putin’s insurgency in eastern Europe.

  • JRP says:

    No doubt Islamic State needs to be destroyed now, not later. No different than what would have occurred had the Democracies confronted Nazi Germany in the mid-thirties instead of waiting till 1939 and reacting instead of proacting. This Islamic State continues to gain traction, we are in deep trouble.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    How many Sunni MPs are sincerely in favor of unified, tri-partisan government in Baghdad.
    A legislature with an absolute Shiite majority.
    A Shiite majority that has as its first priority stopping the IS advance.
    Is there any way the Shiites and the Kurds can trust any Sunni Arab MP?

  • Mike E says:

    Chris makes a great point, Europe needs to fill the gap left by American weakness.

  • TallDave says:

    If USF could attack armored targets and C&C across the country, they could degrade ISIS and ISF could retake Iraq virtually overnight.


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