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Paris Terror: Air Strikes Will Have Little Effect if They Are the Only Weapon in the War Against Isis
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French aircraft have bombed Raqqa, Isis’s capital, and hit an Isis training camp and a suspected arms depot according to a local monitoring group. But ten French planes dropping 20 bombs are unlikely to achieve very much because targets are concealed, dispersed and difficult to detect.

The limitations on the effectiveness of French military actions are made clear by the failure of the much larger US-led air campaign to contain Isis since air strikes began in August last year. It has caused damage and inflicted casualties on Isis and, on occasion, has led to their defeat in ground battles with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. But, despite being vulnerable to air attack, Isis was still able to capture Palmyra in Syria and Ramadi in Iraq in May.

The air campaign is very much dominated by the US, particularly in Syria. As of 6 October this year, the US and its allies had conducted 57,843 sorties in support of operations in Iraq and Syria, but these had led to only 7,323 air strikes according to the US Defence Department. Even allowing for refuelling and reconnaissance missions, this means the great majority of sorties did not find a target and returned without using their bombs and missiles.

They do not find targets because Isis is essentially a guerrilla organisation. It has dispersed its men and equipment or kept them in mosques, schools and hospitals that the US and its allies would find embarrassing to destroy. The US and British clearly do have informants on the ground in Raqqa enabling them to find and kill Mohammed Emwazi, so-called “Jihadi John”, last week.

But Isis has a proactive and ruthless intelligence service and in cities like Mosul it has blown up mobile phone towers to prevent people communicating with the outside world. It puts greater effort into protecting its military and political leaders than it would into safeguarding Emwazi, who was a simple executioner whatever his notoriety in Britain and the US. These leaders will be difficult to identify for people in Raqqa or elsewhere in Islamic State. Isis fighters say they do not know people above them in their military hierarchy aside from their own immediate commander.

The air strikes limit Isis’s military options and, in certain circumstances, cause heavy losses, the best example being the siege of Kobani over four-and-a-half months. This came close to falling to Isis in October 2014 despite heroic resistance by Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), but it was saved by massive US air strikes. These eventually numbered over 700 and may have killed as many as 2,000 Isis fighters who were located in a small and easily targeted space. The YPG was able to provide precise co-ordinates for enemy positions to the operations base in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government.


Air strikes only have a decisive impact when they are launched in close co-operation with a reliable military ally on the ground. The 50 Russian planes similarly get some 400 to 800 co-ordinates a day from the Syrian army. This appears to have been effective in enabling the Syrian army with Russian support to advance south and east of Aleppo, breaking Isis’s long siege of Kweiris air base and giving the Syrian army its greatest success for two years.

The great majority of the air strikes by the US-led coalition have been carried out by the US air force. Out of 8,125 air strikes up to 12 November, the US carried out 6,353, while, of those carried out by its allies, just 146 were in Syria. The contribution of Arab forces has fallen to almost nothing, as the states use their air power to attack Yemen. Turkey, committed to attacking Isis since July when it finally let the US use its Incirlik airbase, has largely confined itself to bombing the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in south east Turkey and northern Iraq.

Isis may have to defend Raqqa and, sometime later, Mosul from ground assault backed by massive air raids. Its commanders are reportedly divided as to whether they want to take the heavy losses involved in fighting from fixed positions in cities. Their military strength lies in fluid guerrilla type battles when they launch many diversionary assaults before the main attack and thereby achieve an element of surprise. Hostile air power puts pressure on them, but will not necessarily defeat them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Paris Attacks 
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  1. Has anybody over the last four days ever asked Hollande “What did you think would happen if you bombed Damascus?”

  2. Kiza says:

    Cockburn has been ordered by MI6 to promote a ground invasion, to create a terrorist safe heaven in Northern Syria. This would probably be done by Turkish ground troops supported by NATO airforce, because the Kurds do not have sufficient military power to do the same. Division of Syria between Turkey, Israel and “moderate” terrorists is the end goal, as it was from the beginning of this clandestine Western intervention.

    Is it worth mentioning that all these “60,000” US airforce sorties over Syria were totally illegal by international law, as an aggression on a sovereign state. I doubt that they killed 20 ISIS fighters, let alone 2,000. The same for sorties by Israel and Turkey, openly targeting SAA. At least they do not pretend to be “fighting terrorism” like the Western countries do, to fool domestic population.

    One thing the Russian involvement appears to have done is force the West to ditch ISIS. Now, there is no military force left that could crush Syria then the Turkish military. With Erdogan’s “electoral win”, Turkey is now poised for direct military involvement in Syria. No more proxies.

    • Replies: @Kiza
  3. Avery says:

    {The limitations on the effectiveness of French military actions are made clear by the failure of the much larger US-led air campaign to contain Isis since air strikes began in August last year.}

    What a load pf nonsense.
    The “much larger US-led air campaign” was no campaign at all.
    US AF bombings were for show: nothing more.

    If US AF wanted to totally obliterate ISIS hardware and support facilities, it could do it in a month.
    Anyone doubts that need to look at pictures of miles and miles of Iraqi columns tuned to melted metal and carbonized soldiers on the infamous Highway of Death.
    Yet ISIS openly parades on highways with tanks, artillery, HUMVEEs, miles and miles of militarized Toyota pickups, and US AF is on vacation ?

    What a crock.

    FM Lavrov came out and finally openly said it today: [Despite announcing ambitious plans for its coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), “the analysis of those [US-led] airstrikes during over a year lead to conclusion that they were hitting selectively, I would say, sparingly and on most occasions didn’t touch those IS units, which were capable of seriously challenging the Syrian army,” Lavrov told the Rossiya 1 channel.]
    [“Apparently, it’s a kind of a ‘honey is sweet, but the bee stings’ situation: they want IS to weaken Assad as soon as possible to make him leave somehow, but at the same time they don’t want to overly strengthen IS, which may then seize power,” he explained.]

  4. Kiza says:

    I forgot to mention, those 20 ISIS fighters that the US killed with its 60,000 sorties were all friendly fire incidents. Something like the Canadians killed in Afghanistan (about the same number).

    A lot of fuss in the media, apparently Hollande is not calling for the removal of President Assad any more, but I doubt much will change in the Western military plans against the government of Syria. They just repackage their crap and sell it again to the masses.

    I wish so much to be wrong and Syria gets a peace after the destruction of ISIS by Russia and Iran.

  5. Rehmat says:

    French airstrikes like the US, UK, Turkish and Canadian airstrikes in Syria and Iraq are not to destroy ISIS, but to save its destruction at the hands of Syrian army with cooperation from Iran and Lebanese Hizbullah.

    Does Cockburn know that ISIS/ISIL is operating along its borders – but instead of joining the US lead “coalition of absurd”, it’s providing medical care to ISIS terrorists. May be Netanyahu has not forgot Jewish army’s military humiliation in Lebanon in 2000 and 2006 at the hands of Hizbullah fighters.

  6. Man, I hate to point out the obvious (my eye is especially sharp in that regard), the ISIS threat originates in Syria perhaps, but it RESIDES in Paris. There are ghettos where the good folks of the Religion Of Peace have been out-breeding the native French at a ration of 7:1.5 for decades, plus all the recent “refugee” undertow. The numbers are unknown to all, but the ghettos must surely hold 400,000, all on the dole; further and most disturbing, in a country with draconian gun laws for the Native French the ghettos represent an armed camp where police and military dare not tread. And seriously armed, AK47s, lots of ammunition, so many weapons so much ammunition, they left weapons and loaded magazines all over town after the completion of their festivities Friday night.

    What to do about all THAT? Sure, set up candles and flowers, drop a few bombs, tow your aircraft carrier to the Syrian coast in the Med which is laughable. But the real problem, the real threat is in their very midst, it is growing through immigration, breeding, they are radicalizing their young in their mosques. As we speak and breathe, their Sharia Law Courts are in full swing. Then, more and more, when the opportunity is ripe, they murder the French citizens that welcome and support their mortal enemies.

    They murder without regard for women, for children, yet we in the West, before we bomb, we drop leaflets to protect their women and children and in so doing, warn the bad guys. It is sick, it is a nightmare and it is not being addressed. WW2 practices need to be instituted regarding bombing. Do we have the stomach for it anymore? I think not. But what then?

    What of it? The ultimate Us or Them existential question. Genocide for French Citizens, death by a thousand cuts, or will the French save themselves and their culture and eliminate the unassailable foreign threat in their midst on out? It’s a long pipeline. Time is running short, the tightrope is rapidly fraying. There has to be a “Final Solution”, the situation must come to one end or another. Just sayin’.

  7. Stupid European whites. Most are childless. To greedy to replace themselves. Jews in control want any type of warm bodies to work the factories and feed their banks. Name of the game-water down White Europeans for control. For non europeans–family off springs is important. For stupid whites–vacations, fancy cars and Condos. Kosher fix is in.

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