U.S. aircraft are dropping more bombs on the Islamic State than at any time since operations began in 2014, the top Air Force general in Iraq told Air Force Times.
The U.S. has dropped almost 500 bombs a week on ISIS during March, with one week topping out at 605. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler described the current pace of operations as “the most kinetic three weeks in the campaign in Iraq.” All U.S. airstrikes were carried out in support of the Iraqi Security Force advance on the city of Mosul against ISIS.
The March numbers fit with a general trend beginning in January 2017, when the U.S. and its coalition partners dropped nearly 7,000 bombs on ISIS. This is the highest three-month stretch of bombings since the campaign in Iraq began. The current pace of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS have come under scrutiny after a U.S. airstrike may have played a role in the collapse of a building on 200 civilians on Mar 17.
The incident prompted accusations that the Trump administration has loosened U.S. rules of engagement in the fight against ISIS. Top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, denied Tuesday that rules of engagement were changed, instead noting that the campaign for Mosul is a bitter urban slog. Townsend described the Iraqi Security Force’s current advance as the toughest and most brutal fighting he has seen in his entire career in the U.S. army.
Isler outlined the process by which strikes are approved by the U.S., beginning with requests from the Iraqi Security Forces on the ground. After the Iraqi request is made, the U.S. does an assessment on the damage the strike will have on civilians in the surrounding area. “Sometimes, the potential to adversely impact civilians is too high, and we will not execute a strike in that case, and we have a very particular dialogue on other ways that we can get around that problem,” he said.
“This is a war, and mistakes can happen, and there can be losses,” an Iraqi special forces general lamented to The New York Times after reports of a civilian casualty spike in Mosul. He continued that the loss of 200 civilian lives “in return for liberating the entire city of Mosul — I think it is a normal thing.”
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