The Silent 80 Percent

Host-nation sensitivities have made it difficult for the Air Force to quantify its contribution to the fight against the ISIS terror organization, but the service is leading the way and can expect to continue to do so. So said Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh in a Sept. 16 meeting with reporters at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. Many of the nations hosting Air Force fighters, bombers, surveillance airplanes, and tankers around the Middle East do not want to publicize their roles, so the Pentagon has been largely silent on the issue. But Welsh noted that the Air Force has flown some 1,000 tanker sorties and 500 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance sorties in the battle against ISIS thus far. James said fully 80 percent of the air strikes against ISIS have come from the Air Force, but again in deference to the nations hosting the aircraft, neither of the service’s top leaders added much fidelity beyond the overall numbers. Welsh made clear, however, that the Air Force is prepared to do what is asked of it in the battle against ISIS, and that the nation can afford the operation.