Coalition intensifies air campaign against Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR), the US led coalition that is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has intensified its air campaign against the Islamic State’s stronghold and the seat of its so-called caliphate in the Syrian city of Raqqah. Over the past eight days, CJTFOIR has more than three times the number of airstrikes in Raqqah than it has in Mosul, where the Iraqi forces backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga are attempting to wrest the Iraqi city from the Islamic State.

Between Dec. 10, the date that CJTFOIR announced the beginning of the next phase of the Syrian Democratic Forces operation to “isolate ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah,” and Dec. 27, the coalition has launched 83 airstrikes in and around Raqqah, according to US Central Command, which issues daily press releases on its air operations in Iraq and Syria. The targets of the air campaign in Raqqah include “tactical units,” fighting positions, combat vehicles, mortars and artillery systems, a “surface-to-air missile truck and a radar truck,” suicide car bombs (or VBIEDs), oil tankers, oil storage tanks, oil well heads, supply routes, bridges, water control networks, and a “financial storage facility.”

During the same time period, from Dec. 10 to Dec. 27, the US launched 52 airstrikes in Mosul, the largest city in Iraq and Syria that is currently under Islamic State control.

The vast majority of the strikes in Raqqah have taken place since Dec. 20. CJTFOIR has launched 76 strikes in and around Raqqah since Dec. 20.

For comparison, the US launched 23 airstrikes against the Islamic State in and around Mosul from Dec. 20 to Dec. 27.

CJTFOIR defines a strike as “one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect for that location.”

The shift in CJTFOIR’s emphasis from Mosul to Raqqah indicates that the coalition seeks to deal the Islamic State a double blow by denying it its two largest cities in roughly the same time period. However, it is impossible to predict when or even if the Islamic State will lose control of the two cities. The Islamic State, while vastly outnumbered in Mosul, has held off Iraqi forces for more than two months.

The battle for Raqqah may be even more difficult than the fight for Mosul. The Syrian Democratic Forces is a hodge-podge of Kurdish and Syrian militias and tribal groups that have competing claims to territory in northern Syria. Additionally, the Islamic State is expected to fight tooth and nail to defend Raqqah, which it has controlled since 2014.

Strike data from CJTFOIR near Raqqah, from Dec. 10 to Dec. 27. Source: CENTCOM.

Dec. 14: Near Ar Raqqah, one strike damaged six canal bridges and a minor water control network.

Dec. 16: Near Ar Raqqah, one strike damaged two bridges and a water control system.

Dec. 18: Near Ar Raqqah, two strikes engaged two ISIL tactical units and destroyed two fighting positions.

Dec. 19: Near Ar Raqqah, three strikes destroyed one oil tanker truck and damaged an ISIL supply route.

Dec. 20: Near Ar Raqqah, 11 strikes engaged four ISIL tactical units; destroyed three oil storage tanks, two oil well heads, two oil tanker trucks, two fighting positions, two tactical vehicles, a financial storage facility, an artillery system, and a VBIED; and damaged a supply route.

Dec. 21: Near Ar Raqqah, two strikes destroyed an ISIL mortar system and suppressed a tactical unit.

Dec. 22: Near Ar Raqqah, eight strikes engaged three ISIL tactical units; destroyed six oil storage tanks, two VBIEDs, and destroyed a technical vehicle; and damaged a supply route, a fighting position, and a truck.

Dec. 23: Near Raqqah, 13 strikes engaged 10 ISIL tactical units; destroyed seven fighting positions, three vehicles, and a VBIED; and damaged a supply route.

Dec. 24: Near Ar Raqqah, nine strikes engaged eight ISIL tactical units, destroyed seven fighting positions and a tunnel and suppressed an ISIL tactical unit.

Dec. 25: Near Ar Raqqah, 11 strikes engaged eight ISIL tactical units; destroyed 11 fighting positions, four tactical vehicles, a heavy machine gun, and a VBIED; and damaged a supply route.

Dec. 26: Near Ar Raqqah, nine strikes engaged three ISIL tactical units; destroyed six VBIEDs, three tactical vehicles, a bridge, a fighting position, and a supply cache.

Dec. 27: Near Ar Raqqah, 13 strikes engaged seven ISIL tactical units; destroyed 11 fighting positions, a surface-to-air missile truck and a radar truck, a heavy machine gun, and a mortar system; damaged two supply routes; and suppressed an ISIL tactical unit.

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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  • Robert says:

    All tactical air groups, no matter who’s side, have enjoyed this live fire practice. Where else can pilots learn what it takes to bomb and strafe enemy positions . I cringe when I hear the words ‘coalition forces’ being used to augment better trained air forces and pilots. These co-forces are exceedingly inexperienced , probably get in and get out of the danger zone without making a decent effort to actually hit the intended target. Reports will be written up for years to come, on this type of air warfare. Military schools will use this data for teaching courses and also air bases that are primarily used for tactical lessons. What the pilots don’t encounter, is someone shooting back. No ground to air coming up at them. At least I don’t believe there is a tremendous amount of sophisticated hardware to bring down an aircraft . And certainly no experienced ground crews to operate the weapons.

  • Joe Martin says:

    sounds like Mosul isn’t going very well

    Golden Division doing all of the fighting and getting ground down

  • maurice says:

    it appears that there is no more coherent strategy. Target #1: transport. Target #2: front lines. there… we did this in WW2, WTH has happened?

  • Carl Upshon says:

    It’s a good tactic. If we just focused on Mosul first then IS would probably end up fleeing and slipping away only to regroup in Raqqah. By targeting Raqqah as well, as they start to lose ground in Mosul they will realise they can’t run to Raqqah to sort themselves out. They will have to spread far and wide or fight and die.

    By spreading far and wide they won’t have the influence or strength that they currently have over some places. Interesting to see how this pans out.

  • Frank Dunn says:

    What gives George Bush the right to bomb Syria? And Yemen and Libya as well? Congress didn’t authorize US soldiers on the ground in Syria or 500 air strikes in Libya just in late 2016, so why did the evil Bush send them there? If Obama was president….. Never mind.

    Seriously, left unsaid in media hosannas to Obama is what does the US do next in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and several other countries where Obama is waging unauthorized, mostly hidden from the American public, wars? Do we leave 6,000 soldiers in Iraq after Mosul is retaken to keep ISIS from reforming? Do we try to stop the Iranian controlled Shia militia from seizing control of the weak Iraqi government? Do we protect the Iraqi Kurds and other minorities from its own government? Do we aid in rebuilding Fallujah, Mosul and Aleppo? Obama’s only recent mention of Iraq was in October, when he claimed that he withdrew our forces from Iraq as promised without noting he sent 6,000+ back without a SoFA.


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