The United States and its allies are striking a deadly blow against ISIS (also known as Daesh). While much of the press coverage in the United States focuses on the horrors inflicted by ISIS throughout Iraq, Syria and the rest of the world, the United States and its allies are waging a massive military assault that has left tens of thousands of people dead.
In early June 2016, State Department official Brett McGurk provided some indication of the extent of the assault. Speaking at the White House, McGurk indicated that the United States and its allies had caused significant harm to ISIS. “We assessed back in December of 2014 they had as many as about 31,000 fighters in their ranks,” McGurk explained. “It’s now down, it’s at the lowest historic point we’ve seen.” The current number ranges “between 19,000 and 25,000, and it’s continuing to shrink quite rapidly.”
A few days later, State Department official Antony J. Blinken provided more details. In a public speech, Blinken explained that the United States and its allies had killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters. “We have eliminated tens of thousands of its fighters, and hundreds of senior leaders,” Blinken stated.
At the same time, US officials have strongly defended their actions. Despite the fact that they have been conducting one of the most deadly military assaults in the world, US officials have insisted that they must take lethal action to eliminate ISIS.
When McGurk first called attention to the extent of the killing, he presented the basic logic. Standing before a map that showed various areas under ISIS control, McGurk explained that “we have to wipe them off this map.”
During a press briefing in early July 2016, US Col. Christopher Garver made a similar argument. Certainly, “we must defeat these monsters here and now,” Garver explained. After all, ISIS is a “gang of thugs and murderers that have killed and injured so many.”
In fact, US officials have begun to insist that they are achieving great success in their mission. Since they have killed so many ISIS fighters and reclaimed significant amounts of territory, US officials have found much to celebrate.
When Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter addressed US soldiers during his visit to Iraq on July 11, 2016, he praised their “great success” in the fight against ISIS. The military accomplishments have been “extremely impressive,” Carter stated. The military campaign “has progressed remarkably” and there has been “amazing military progress.”
Of course, US officials have also provided some reasons to think otherwise. Not only have they killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters, but they have also committed serious abuses.
In the first place, US officials have not always known who they are killing. For example, US officials have indicated on two separate occasions that they have killed the ISIS leader Omar al-Shishani.
In March 2015, Pentagon officials first announced that they had killed Shishani. Currently, “it’s our assessment that that was a successful strike and that he was killed in that strike,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook stated.
More recently, US officials have provided a different story. On July 14, 2016, the same Pentagon official explained that the previous airstrike had not actually killed Shishani, and that a more recent airstrike had probably killed him. So “it’s fair to say that he was the target of this most recent strike?” a journalist asked. “Yes,” Cook replied, “that would be fair.”
Furthermore, US officials have taken more extreme actions. As they have willingly targeted individuals without knowing their identities, US officials have also placed large numbers of civilians at risk.
Earlier this year, US officials accepted the possibility that one of their airstrikes would result in a large amount of civilian casualties. “US commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target,” CNN reported.
More recently, coalition forces have continued to place civilians at risk. On July 19, 2016, Reuters reported that a series of airstrikes appeared to have killed a large number of civilians in Syria. “At least 56 civilians were reported killed,” Reuters reported.
In spite of the costs, US officials have remained determined to continue with their military operations. Whether they conducted airstrikes without clear knowledge of the identities of their targets, accepted high numbers of civilian casualties, or continued with their massive military assault against ISIS fighters, US officials have intended to do everything in their power to wipe ISIS off the map.
In the end, “we need to destroy the fact and the idea that there can be a state based upon this ideology,” the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter explained. “That has to be done in Syria and Iraq.”
Indeed, US officials made it clear that they would continue directing a massive military assault against ISIS. Ultimately, “we’re going to strike a heavy blow,” the Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed.