A report from the Daily Mail suggests that the United States has hit more than four times as many Islamic State targets in Iraq as the Pentagon has been leading the public to believe, as what the military defines as “one airstrike” could represent multiple bomb drops within a single episode.
The Daily Mail cites a career U.S. Army officer as the main source for their report, which suggests that more than 500 Islamic State targets have come under fire from the United States military, despite the Pentagon reporting that only 148 strikes have taken place since the air campaign against the terrorist group began. The source explains: “Today we strap 11 missiles and bombs to the underside of a single F-18 Hornet jet, fire all of that hardware at ISIS, and we call it a single airstrike,” adding that a Predator drone usually carries four Hellfire guided missiles at a time.
The result of such an ability to fire multiple missiles and bombs within the same airstrike are significantly larger numbers of successfully destroyed targets; a single airstrike can destroy multiple Islamic State armored vehicles or large weapons. The Daily Mail is careful not to suggest that this means the Pentagon has been misleading the public, but rather that typical public knowledge of military airstrikes may leave many believing the United States has done significantly less to combat the Islamic State threat in Iraq than it actually has.
The Pentagon replied to the Daily Mail‘s report by denying that anyone “is lowballing the number of strikes,” adding that they are “being very precise about” the number of strikes. These remarks follow denials from the Pentagon that the operation in Iraq is larger than originally intended or being portrayed publicly. Fox News reports that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest specifically noted that present attacks on Islamic State targets near and around the Haditha Dam, the second largest in the country, were designed to prevent the use of that dam as a weapon of war or ethnic cleansing against minorities whose towns would be destroyed should the dam be also.
The same type of denial of an expansion of the project in Iraq came from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby in August, who noted: “Mission creep refers to the growth or expansion of the goals and objectives of a military operation, that the goals and objectives change, morph into something bigger than they were at the outset… Nothing has changed about the missions that we’re conducting inside Iraq.”
President Obama is set to deliver an address Wednesday outlining the United States’ initiative to eradicate the Islamic State from Iraq and Syria. According to the New York Times, the mission is set to last as much as 36 months and will consist of three distinct military stages.