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Airstrikes Against ISIS

Home > Conflict with ISIS > Airstrikes against ISIS

The use of air strikes against the fighters of the Islamic State by the United States began in early August 2014. The first airstrikes were very limited. The first day the U.S. attacked some gun positions threatening Erbil - the capital of the Iraq Kurd area and provided some support to the trapped Yazidis on top of Mount Sinjar (located in northwestern Iraq along the Syrian border).

The air strikes continued through August with the use of Navy and Air Force fighters and unarmed UAVs (drones). The attacks continued in the Sinjar area keeping ISIL at bay and in support of Peshmerga units engaged with the ISIL fighters. In September the airstrikes hit Sunni rebels in areas in the Tigris River Valley and Anbar Province. In late September and early October ISIS targets in Syria were struck.

Justification for Airstrikes

The U.S. president authorized the use of limited airstrikes on August 7, 2014. The reason provided by the U.S. government 2. was that U.S. personnel in the city of Erbil were threatened by ISIL forces just "minutes" from the city. In addition, there was a humanitarian crisis that needed attention (the Yazidis). Since then the airstrikes have been offensive in nature - striking a variety of ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

Effectiveness of Air Strikes

Air strikes can hit easily identifiable targets on the ground - mass troops, artillery positions, convoys, etc. The strikes are less effective in cities and against small groups of fighters that can blend into the populace and urban areas. 1. So the United States has to judiciously use the air power at its disposal in Iraq. There were some indications that the early results of airstrikes were not being seen after the Islamic State fighters adapted to the airstrikes.

Congressional Authorization of Iraq Airstrikes?

Once again, whenever the U.S. intervenes military in any part of the world, Congress wants to know about it and many members want a "vote". 3. The current air campaign in Iraq against fighers of the Islamic State is no exception.

Will Airstrikes Cause the Enemy to Attack the U.S. Homeland?

Some believe that the use of U.S. airpower in the United States puts the homeland more at risk for attacks - such as the September 11, 2001 attacks. 4. The use of U.S. airpower takes a country civil war (Sunni against Shia) and escalates it to the international level. The worldwide jihadist movement can now justify their attacks against the U.S. homeland - pointing to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. In fact, there are recent news reports 5. that indicate that the Islamic State is establishing cells in Western Europe and possibly in the United States.

Expansion Beyond Initial Mission

The initial airstrikes were performed under the justification of humanitarian assistance and protection of U.S. embassy and military personnel in Erbil. Subsequent airstrikes supported the retaking of the Mosul Dam. Later air strikes in September 2014 airstrikes were conducted in the western province of Anbar 6. (under the guise of humanitarian assistance - securing the Haditha Dam).

Events in September 2014

In early October more members of the anti-ISIS coalition committed their aircraft to the fight. Britain's Royal Air Force conducted airstrikes in Iraq on September 30, 2014. 7.  

Events in October 2014

As of early October the Pentagon estimates that the cost of the war - beginning in mid-June has exceeded $1 billion. Most of this was the cost of airstrikes - either from manned aircraft or cruise missions fired off by the Navy. 8.

Anti-ISIS Coalition Members Conducting Airstrikes

There are a number of anti-ISIS coalition members conducting airstrikes against ISIS. Some are hitting targets in Iraq and some are hitting targets in Syria and some in both countries. Some of these countries include Jordan, Canada, Australia, UAE, France, Belguim, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Maps about Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

Air Bases Used by Coalition Countries Against the Islamic State (Stratfor)

Papers about Airstrikes in Iraq (and Syria)

Cordesman, Anthony H. The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An "Adequacy of Resources", Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), October 13, 2013.

Driver, Strobe. Airpower Hopes: The West Verses, the Islamic State, and the Evolution of Warfare,  E-International Relations, December 21, 2014.

Videos about Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

January 14, 2016. 25 Years of Bombing Iraq, Center for Strategic & Internaitonal Studies (CSIS). The air attacks over the past quarter of a century have taken place in 5 phases.

June 3, 2015. "This is How Little the US-Led Air War Against ISIS Has Achieved". By Ben Watson, Defense One. Video depicts lack of success of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from August 8, 2014 to May 31, 2015. (2 mins 40 seconds long).

News Stories about Airstrikes in Iraq

January 18, 2016. "Airpower: Just Part of the Counterinsurgency Equation", Small Wars Journal. Christopher A. Lawrence, Executive Director and President of the Dupuy Institute argues that airpower is limited in what it can accomplish against insurgencies.

January 13, 2016. "Air Force to Delay A-10 Retirement, Thanks to ISIS". Defense One. After trying to retire the battle-tested Warthog for the past two years, Air Force officials concede that the plane is key to the war on ISIS.

January 7, 2016. "Kill-Em-All With Airstrikes Is Not Working", by Micah Zenko of Council on Foreign Relations, posted on Best Defense, January 7, 2016. 30,000 fighters - 20,000 killed = 30,000 fighters.

June 5, 2015. "Commander defends ISIS air war's effectiveness". Military Times. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Hesterman says that the U.S. is conducting an effective air campaign in spite of withering comments from critics that suggest otherwise.

June 3, 2015. "US Official: Airstrikes Killed 10,000 Islamic State Fighters". Military.com. A U.S. State Department official may have released classified information by mistake. If true, then 10,000 would be 1/3 of the Islamic State's strength - but some question the accuracy of the figure, how much these losses have hampered ISIS, and the effectiveness of airstrikes in general.

June 2, 2015. "Risk outweighs reward in deploying airstrike spotters, officials say". USA Today. The use of Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) would enhance air strikes but there would be casualties.

May 18, 2015. "Why ISIS Can Still Defeat the Iraqi Army in Spite of U.S. Help". Time.com. American air strikes cannot compensate for divisions and distrust between the Shi'ite majority and the Sunni minority.

February 22, 2015. "Pittard: JTACS May Be Deployed to Iraq". Defense News. MG Pittard of Third Army in Kuwait says there may be a need tof JTACs in a limited role.

February 12, 2015. "The UAE Resumes Sorties Against the Islamic State". Stratfor Global Intelligence. A squadron of UAE F-16 fighters are now based in Jordan. The UAE resumed air strikes against the Islamic State after the captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive by ISIS and the U.S. moved some Personnel Recovery assets closer to the engagement area.

February 10, 2015. "UAE rejoins airstrike operations against Islamic State". The Washington Post. The UAE deployed some jets to Jordan shortly after the IS killed a captive Jordanian pilot.

January 6, 2015. "Inherent Resolve Airstrikes Continue in Syria, Iraq". DoD News.

January 5, 2015. "Combined Joint Task Force Continues Airstrikes Against ISIL". DOD News.

October 21, 2014. "Iraqi officials call for U.S. to step up airstrikes, military aid". Los Angeles Times. Iraq says U.S. air campaign is too modest. U.S. spokesmen respond that weather, presidential constraints, and Iraq ownership of the war limits air campaign.

October 17, 2104. "Air Campaign Against ISIS Is Just Getting Off the Ground", by Brian Micheal Jenkins, The RAND Blog. Jenkins argues that the air campaign needs more time to be effectively judged.

October 14, 2014. The Air Campaign Against ISIS (II): Military Parnerships Will Be the Deciding Factor, Defense in Depth Blog, Council on Foreign Relations. A good article on the Arab nations providing air support in the fight against ISIS. Worth commenting is the title of the article includes the word "deciding" yet there is not one mention of the word "ground forces". Hmmmm.

October 7, 2014. "Canadian Parliament Authorizes Air Strikes in Iraq". The New York Times. Plans include deployment of six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft, two surveillance planes and one airlift aircraft. Canada already has special forces advisors deployed to Iraq with plans to send more.

October 7, 2014. "US Calls Kobani Airstrikes 'Useful' as Kurds Seek More Support". Voice of America. Amid criticism that the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are not having the intended effect the US State Department is countering with their own message.

October 6, 2014. "U.S. strategy against Islamic State is too much air, not enough boots". Los Angeles Times. Fred and Kim Kagan speak their mind saying the air campaign is too limited to be effective and is unlikely to keep the Islamic State from expanding the territory it controls. They suggest that it is time to get American Special Forces on the ground working with loyal Sunni tribes.

September 30, 2014. The Air Campaign Against ISIS: Understanding What Air Strikes Can Do - and What They Can't, Defense in Depth Blog, Council on Foreign Relations.

September 25, 2014. "Arab Allies Take Lead in Syria Airstrikes: F-22s Fade From View". Breaking Defense.

September 25, 2014. "CENTCOM releases new video of airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria". Military Times.

September 25, 2014. "U.S. says airstrikes crippled most of small oil refineries held by Islamic State in Syria". The Washington Post.

September 5, 2014. "How to Defeat ISIL: It's All about the Strategy". By David Deptula, Beaking Defense.

August 14, 2014. "Obama: U.S. to End Aid Drops in Iraq, but Airstrikes to Continue". NPR at this link.

August 14, 2014. "The Strengths and Limits of Air Power". The New York Times at this link. A discussion with Joe Felter, Rebecca Grant, Michael Wahid, James Franklin, and Mark Clodfelter.

August 13, 2014. "10 days in Iraq: Aid drops, air-strikes and 200,000 new refugees". BBC News Middle East at his link.

August 13, 2014. "Vatican approves of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq". The Washington Times at this link.

August 12, 2014. "Americans Support Air Strikes in Iraq, but Strongly Oppose Sending in Troops", The Huffington Post at this link.

August 10, 2014. "U.S. airstrikes bring early gains in Iraq". USA Today at this link.



1. For more on the effectiveness of air strikes against ISIS see "Airstrikes Can Only Do So Much to Combat ISIS", The New York Times, by Joe Felter, August 13, 2014 at this link.

2. For a justification of the airstrikes see "Airstrikes in Iraq: What You Need to Know", The White House Blog, by Ben Rhodes, August 11, 2014 at this link.

3. See "Tim Kaine wants congressional authorization of Iraq airstrikes", The Washington Post, August 12, 2014 at this link.

4. For more on U.S. homeland at risk due to airstrikes in Iraq see "Will US Airstrikes Empower ISIS?", The Diplomat, August 14, 2014 at this link.

5. Read a news report suggesting that the IS will or has established cells in Western Europe - "Islamic State working to establish cells outside Middle East, U.S. says", The Washington Post, at this link.

6. For more about airstrikes protecting the Haditha Dam see a statement from the pentagon released on September 7, 2014.

7. See "U.K. Carries Out First Airstrikes in Iraq", The Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2014 at this link.

8. See "Pentagon: As much as $1.1 billion spent on Iraq, Syria operations so far". Stars and Stripes at this link.

9. See "US-led airstrikes against Islamic State produce few gains", Stars and Stripes, October 7, 2014. at this link.


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