The U.S.-led coalition dropped more bombs between Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 than it did during any seven-day period since the air war against the Islamic State group began in August 2014, according to the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
That is because the U.S. and its coalition partners were supporting anti-Islamic State fighters in Sinjar, Ramadi in Iraq and al-Hawl in Syria, said Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. When indigenous forces are on the move, it forces the Islamic State group to move, making it easier to strike the militants, he said.
Recently, the U.S. and its partners have turned their attention to destroying trucks carrying oil that the Islamic State group could sell to fund its operations. The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the truck drivers to run away about 45 minutes before A-10 and AC-130s destroyed 116 tankers near al-Bukamal in Syria.
"As we work through this with our authorities and our lawyers and others, we want to minimize civilian casualties associated with this," Brown told Air Force Times on Wednesday. "We can't say that everybody that is around those trucks is 100 percent Daesh [Islamic State group]. That's the reason why we give them an opportunity to leave."
With the increase in activity on the ground, more U.S. planes are dropping bombs during combat missions against the Islamic State group, Brown said. Brown has a range of aircraft at his disposal, including A-10s, AC-130 Spectre gunships, F-22s, F-15Cs and F-15Es, B-1 bombers, and a variety of unmanned aircraft.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that 75 percent of U.S. combat missions in Iraq and Syria end without any type of weapons release, but Brown said that the figure is now between 40 and 50 percent.
"Seventy-five percent is a number that is too high," Brown told Air Force Times on Wednesday. "I think it's always been high. It's been from 40 to 60 percent. Right now, it's right around 50 percent."
Russia is conducting its own air operations in Syria in defense of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. On Tuesday, a Russian Su-24 was shot down by a Turkish F-16 after it allegedly violated Turkish airspace. In response, Russia is reportedly sending advanced S-400 surface-to-air-missiles to Syria.
When asked if the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles could complicate matters for U.S.-led air operations against the Islamic State group, Brown said: "Yes, it does complicate things a little bit and we'll put some thought to it, but we still have a job to do here and we're going to continue to do that job — to defeat Daesh."
Despite Russian claims that its airstrikes have also targeted Islamic State militants, the majority of Russian strikes have targeted other groups opposed to Assad's regime, Brown said. The U.S.-led coalition and Russia have signed a memorandum of understanding spelling out how both sides will not show hostile intentions toward the other, he said.
Brown said he hopes to make significant progress against the Islamic State group by the end of next year.
"By the time we get to the end of 2016, I hope to be pretty well done with Daesh," Brown said. "That's probably aspirational, but I think we are putting pressure on Daesh. We have not seen from Daesh any major offensive in the past couple months. Most of the stuff we see is more harassing attacks. So they don't have the staying power that they're going to need to survive what we're putting on them."