Monday, December 14, 2015

Anti-ISIL strikes now aimed at moving targets

U.S.-led air raids on Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria have shifted from buildings and fixed sites to fleeting targets in recent months, reflecting advances by allied ground forces and an effort to disrupt its illicit trade in oil.

Attacks on what the military refers to as “dynamic targets” have increased since early fall, according to data obtained by USA TODAY. These targets are often groups of fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, who have been forced into the open desert by allied ground forces. Also, in November pilots from the U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign to destroy tankers smuggling oil, a key revenue source for ISIL.

Airstrikes have destroyed about 400 tankers. Advances on the ground by U.S.-supported opposition fighters, known as Syrian Democratic Forces, in northern Syria have forced ISIL militants to move to confront the threat, said Nicholas Heras, an expert on Syria and ISIL at the Center for a New American Security.

Previously, ISIL’s elite foreign troops from other Arab countries and the Caucasus, had been hunkered down amid civilians in Syrian cities, essentially shielded from airstrikes because of the coalition’s directive avoid civilian casualties.

“When they move now, the coalition has a better sense where they will be moving to and by what routes and stopping points along the way, and it makes eastern Syria a far more target-rich environment,” Heras said.

 The peak in attacking dynamic targets occurred from Nov. 10 to 23 when pilots hit 339 fleeting targets compared with 57 that had been planned before they launched their raids, the figures show. The mounting intensity of the fight comes as President Obama prepares to visit the Pentagon Monday with his national security team for an update on progress on ISIL.

Hitting moving targets comes with greater risk of civilian casualties, a key concern for the U.S.-led coalition whose commanders fear such losses will alienate local populations and prompt them to side with ISIL. “ISIL has handed U.S. warfighters a horrible dilemma,” said Loren Thompson a defense industry consultant and military analyst at the Lexington Institute. “They can't hit the terrorists without hitting civilians too.

That's the way ISIL wants it, because hitting civilians could discredit U.S. actions.” Meanwhile, additional data show the U.S.-led coalition confronting Islamic State terrorists continues to be just that — U.S led and dominated. Nearly 78% of the 8,783 attacks with bombs and missiles on targets in Iraq and Syria on the Islamic State have come from U.S. warplanes since the air war began in August 2014.

In Syria, the heart of the Islamic State, 94% of the air raids have been made by American pilots, the figures show. The White House and Pentagon regularly point to the 60-nation coalition fighting ISIL militants. The reality is that, apart from Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq and Syria and halting efforts by Iraqi security forces on the ground, the war is largely an American air campaign.

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