The “Timorous Use of Air Power” in Syria

As a debate rages over the effectiveness of the air campaign against ISIS extremists in Iraq and Syria, an analysis by a prominent national security think tank looked at the sharp difference in the number of strike sorties in the newly named Operation Inherent Resolve and other recent air assaults. The study by two analysts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment compared the 412 total strikes in the two-month effort against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to the 48,224 strikes in the 43-day Desert Storm campaign in 1991, and the more than 800 offensive sorties in the 31-day assault to depose Saddam Hussein in 2003. With ISIS controlling 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,” according to the CSBA report, which was originally published in the Wall Street Journal. The analysts said the low sortie rate could reflect a lack of suitable ground targets, but noted Pentagon claims that ISIS was more of a conventional army than a highly dispersed typical terrorist organization. They also conceded the possible “moral imperative” to avoid civilian casualties could be constraining target selection. But they said the “timorous use of air power” is unlikely to have real impact.