The Air Force, other military services, and coalition allies in March released the most weapons so far in the war against the Islamic State.
According to statistics posted online this week by Air Forces Central Command, the coalition released 3,878 weapons last month, continuing the trend this year of a significant increase in airstrikes. In the first three months of this year, the coalition released 10,918 weapons against ISIS, a 62 percent increase over the 6,730 weapons released in the first quarter of 2016. And each month so far this year, individually, has seen more weapons released than any single month over the first roughly 2½ years of Operation Inherent Resolve, which began August 2014.
The number of sorties with at least one weapon release has also increased from 2,781 at this point last year to 3,187. But the number of overall close-air support, escort and interdiction sorties in the first three months of the year has dropped, from 6,080 last year to 4,741 this year.
AFCENT was unable to provide information on what drove March's increase in weapons releases. But last month, AFCENT said that part of the increase stemmed from Iraqi and other allied forces' efforts to retake the strategically key cities of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, which coalition aircraft are supporting. AFCENT also said last month that the coalition tends to increase its airstrikes as partner forces make progress in seizing territory.
AFCENT's statistics, however, do not account for all coalition weapons released, meaning the true number of weapons released is likely higher. The statistics include weapons released by aircraft under Combined Forces Air Component Commander control — which includes aircraft from all U.S. military branches and coalition aircraft — but not all aircraft flying in the area fall under that commander's control. Strikes conducted by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the Army, for example, are not included in AFCENT statistics.
Coalition aircraft also released 203 weapons over Afghanistan last month, following 200 weapons released in February and 54 in January for a total of 457 weapons released so far this year. That represents a 52 percent increase over the 300 weapons released over Afghanistan in the first quarter of 2016. Last month, AFCENT said improving weather with the arrival of spring is allowing the coalition to conduct more missions. Enemy forces on the ground also ramp up operations in the spring.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.