In September of 2014, President Obama addressed the nation and described the counterterrorism strategy that he claimed would be used to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS in the Middle East. Since then, the fight to destroy the Islamic State has encountered setbacks that have caused both seasoned military analysts and casual observers to question whether or not the Administration’s policy mandating the prevention of civilian casualties is an effective tactic to destroy an enemy whose strategy depends on the use of civilian infrastructure as a shield.

High-profile critics like Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have put Administration officials on defense, and yesterday, US Central Command air force leader Air Force Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III did his best to get out in front of the debate:

In a news conference he said was called to counter misconceptions about the use of air power in an unconventional war, Air Force Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III asserted Friday that pilots are killing more than 1,000 militants a month while avoiding civilian casualties and Iraqi government forces.

As the Islamic State has made territorial gains in Anbar province, including the capital Ramadi, critics have accused U.S. commanders of being too cautious, missing opportunities to kill the militants and disrupt their supply lines.

“The thought that we’re observing large numbers of Daesh terrorists and not killing them, anywhere, is fiction,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which has defied nearly a year of daily U.S. airstrikes to maintain a hold on large swaths of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria.

“We kill them wherever we find them,” the general said.

So, are we failing? Was the air campaign a mistake?

Asked about the perception among many in Washington and elsewhere that a well-financed and adaptive Islamic State army is on the march in Iraq and Syria and that the U.S. military strategy is failing, Hesterman said the perception is based on a flawed notion of how air power should be used.

He said the bombing campaign should not be compared to past wars because the adversary is neither a state nor an established army.

“The comparison is not valid,” he said, adding, “This enemy wrapped itself around the civilian population before we even started.” The military has never had a blueprint for how to use airstrikes in such a setting. “With this enemy we have to be available 24/7 with coalition air power, differentiate them from the population and go after them every time we find them. It’s an order of magnitude more difficult than what we’ve done before.”

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to tactical decisions, but much of this explanation fails to address overall concerns regarding what many are calling a “timid” response from the Administration to violence in the Middle East.

Former Department of Defense spokesman JD Gordon says what we’re all thinking—that it’s going to take a change of leadership in the White House to get the offensive back on track:

Today, Iraqi troops in Anbar beat back a series of attacks by ISIS militants, forcing the insurgents to retreat. Since the fall of Ramadi last month, Iraqi officials have stepped up requests for American weaponry, citing the ongoing struggle to retake territory seized by ISIS in Anbar and elsewhere.


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