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U.S. and coalition airstrikes against ISIS spike as Mosul, Raqqa offensives heat up

March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/Air Force)
Aircraft from the Air Force, other branches of the U.S. military and coalition nations released more than 7,000 weapons against the Islamic State in January and February — the most of any two-month stretch since Operation Inherent Resolve began more than two and a half years ago.

According to statistics posted online last week by U.S. Air Forces Central Command, the coalition released 3,600 weapons against ISIS in January and another 3,440 in February. Before this year began, the busiest month for the Air Force against ISIS was November 2015, when 3,242 weapons were released.

AFCENT spokeswoman Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff said in an email that part of that increase is due to the Air Force's effort to support Iraqi and other allied forces as they continue their effort to retake the strategically key cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Iraqi soldiers, for example, have cleared ISIS from the eastern half of Mosul and are now fighting their way through the western part of the city.

Atanasoff also said that the coalition also tends to increase its airstrikes as partner forces make progress in seizing territory.

"As they move forward, clear land and find the enemy, we are able to hunt down and kill ISIS," Atanasoff said in an email Saturday.

AFCENT's statistics do not account for all coalition weapons released, however. The statistics account for weapons released by aircraft under Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) control, Atanasoff said, which include aircraft from all U.S. military branches and coalition aircraft. But, Atanasoff said, "not all aircraft flying in the [area of responsibility] fall under CFACC control."

Also, a Military Times investigation in February found that potentially thousands of airstrikes, such as strikes conducted over the years by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the Army, were not included in AFCENT's statistics. This means that the number of weapons released so far this year is likely higher than the statistics show.

So far in 2017, the coalition fighting ISIS has conducted at least 3,271 sorties, with 2,129 of those having at least one weapon release. That's down from the 4,047 sorties conducted by this point last year, but an increase from the 1,900 sorties with at least one weapon release in the first two months of 2016.

The statistics also showed the number of weapons released in Afghanistan increased sharply, from 54 in January to 200 in February. That is among the highest monthly tallies in Afghanistan over the last two years. The only months with higher totals since 2015 began were October 2015, when 203 weapons were released, and October 2016, when 205 were released.

Atanasoff said that bad weather on several days in January grounded aircraft in Afghanistan, resulting in the lowest number of weapons released since May 2015. But as the weather improved in February, the coalition was able to conduct more missions. This will likely continue as the weather continues to improve, she said.

"As we enter spring, more operations are possible since we have more favorable conditions to conduct operations in Afghanistan," Atanasoff said.
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