Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ISIS and Air Power: Attrition Through Bombing?

The air power advocates are embracing the current bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Air power in many conflicts works great (Kosovo, invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, invasion of Iraq 2003) but the effectiveness falls off once the initial target sets are destroyed and the enemy adapts. Air power in a hybrid or asymmetric war can only go so far. The type of warfare utilized by ISIS will morph based on how we fight them. Groups like ISIS are composed of three things that make them work: stuff, people and ideas (according to Matthew Cavanaugh of The War Council). Stuff, if it is large enough, can be found, and if valuable enough can be bombed and destroyed. People can be bombed if they mass in a big enough formation and if they can be found. Insurgents typically don't mass and try to blend in with the population. Where ISIS is trying to hold territory they certainly will be at risk. Where they are mounting offensives to gain more territory they are at risk. Ideas are hard to destroy by bombing; especially if a group like ISIS is better at tweeting than you are. So defeating or destroying ISIS through attrition (by bombing) is unlikely; degrading through attrition (bombing) is surely possible. Air power, when combined with SOF operators and JTACs on the ground to identify targets can be effective. When air power, SOF/JTACs, and ground troops (Free Syrian Army, Kurds, Iraqi Army, and other Arab forces) can be extremely effective and could possibly lead to defeat within Iraq. Syria? Probably not. Read an interesting article on this topic in "Destroying Value: ISIS, The Anaconda, and War on the Cheap", The War Council, October 1, 2014.

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