Frustrated members of the U.S. Air Force are venting because their commander in chief has been keeping them from fighting an effective air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Within the U.S. Air Force, there’s mounting frustration that the air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is moving far more slowly than expected. Instead of a fast-moving operation with hundreds of sorties flown in a single day—the kind favored by many in the air service—American warplanes are hitting small numbers of targets after a painstaking and cumbersome process.
The single biggest problem, current and former Air Force officers say, is the so-called kill-chain of properly identifying and making sure the right target is being attacked. At the moment, that process is very complicated and painfully slow. “The kill-chain is very convoluted,” one combat-experienced Air Force A-10 Warthog pilot told The Daily Beast. “Nobody really has the control in the tactical environment.”
U.S. military pilots carrying out the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are voicing growing discontent over what they say are heavy-handed rules of engagement hindering them from striking targets. They blame a bureaucracy that does not allow for quick decision-making. One Navy F-18 pilot who has flown missions against ISIS voiced his frustration to Fox News, saying: “There were times I had groups of ISIS fighters in my sights, but couldn’t get clearance to engage.”He added, “They probably killed innocent people and spread evil because of my inability to kill them. It was frustrating.”
A former U.S. Air Force general who has led air campaigns over Iraq and Afghanistan told Fox News that today’s pilots are being “micromanaged,” and the process for ordering strikes is so slow that the enemy is frequently allowed to escape.
“You’re talking about hours in some cases, which by that time the particular tactical target left the area and or the aircraft has run out of fuel. These are excessive procedures that are handing our adversary an advantage,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Afghanistan in 2001.
Deptula placed the blame squarely on the White House.
“The ultimate guidance rests in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “We have been applying air power like a rain shower or a drizzle — for it to be effective, it needs to be applied like a thunderstorm.”
Sen. John McCain recently made the stunning assertion that 75 percent of pilots are returning without dropping any ordnance at all due to the delays in decision-making process.
A senior defense official at the Pentagon pushed back on the comparisons between the air war against ISIS and past air campaigns. “The Gulf War and Kosovo are not reasonable comparisons. In those instances, we were fighting conventional forces. Today, we are supporting a fight against terrorists who blend into the civilian population,” he said. “Our threshold for civilian casualties and collateral damage is low. We don’t want to own this fight. We have reliable partners on the ground.”
But of course, one of the complaints has been that thanks to Obama’s pledge not to put troops on the ground, there are no U.S. ground forces to direct American air power against ISIS positions. Whoever their “reliable partners on the ground” are, there obviously aren’t enough of them.
— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) May 18, 2015