Basile Simon (blog) Data, hackery, stories

The dependence on the United States for the anti-ISIS campaign

An U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft before strike operations in Syria, Sept. 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package engaging targets against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf

Several months after the United States were joined by their current partners for a massive air campaign against the Islamic State, President Obama's forces are in a position of leader, upon which all his partners depend.

The Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), and previsouly, the US Central Command (Centcom), releases every day a detailed report of the coalition's strikes in Iraq and Syria. In addition to these reports, some of the allies publish their own press releases (which can be more or less detailed than the CJTF-OIR's).

These reports show the sheer domination of the United States on the campaign, both in terms of involvment in strikes, and in terms of material deployed.

Few strikes without the US involved

Strikes by the US and their allies

Strikes by the US and their allies acting on their own

The two charts above present two ways of counting and attributing the strikes, based on our dataset:

  1. Whenever an ally or a "partner nation" is quoted for a strike, it is attributed responsibility and the strikes are counted in its tally.
  2. Only strikes led by allies alone, without the support of the United States, are added to the tally.

Even if in both cases the domination of the US is noticeable, the second chart plotting independent from the US strikes is remarkable for the picture it paints of the so-called "coalition."

It must be noted however that the way the tallies are kept by Airwars depends heavily on US military press releases language. As the strikes are clustered together in the press releases, it is rarely possible to attribute responsability precisely inside a cluster of strikes.

In such a case, the strikes are then attributed to all participants named by the report, as the CJTF-OIR does. This leads to what we assume is an over-representation of the strikes in partnership with the United States, as well as an under-representation of strikes without US assistance.

The massive US deployment for the campaign

The material deployed for an operation is always interesing, as it helps us getting a more accurate picture of what the belligerents are aiming at.

For example, Airwars reported earlier in the campaign the deployment by the French of 6 Mirage 2000-D (the conventional version of the 2000-N, one of the French nuclear attack strike vector) in Jordan. These bombers joined the previously involved 9 Rafale fighter jets stationed in the United Arab Emirates. While the Rafale has reliable ground attack skills, it tells a lot that France involves proper bombers closer to Iraq.

Keeping a record of the offensive capabilities involved is not that difficult, but doing so only confirms the preeminence of the United States military budget on this operation: the whole portfolio of air-ground attack vectors has been deployed against IS - and even more: Centcom showed off its (very expensive) F-22 deployed in Iraqi skies, notwithstanding the fact that the Lockheed F-22 is an air superiority fighter, and not a bomber per se, even if its capabilities to deliver large bombs from 25kms away must be handy.

In comparison, partner countries deployed far less: Jordan flies four F-16s ; Saudi Arabia flies four F-15s ; the UK sent Tornados and Reaper drones ; Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark all fly F-16s...

Even worse, War is Boring claims that "the Dutch can barely support 10 F-16s in the Middle East."

We continue to describe the campaign as the "US-led coalition," and the wording seems more than appropriate, given the importance of the US forces in this war. Fortunately for the allies, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would remain engaged for several years.