Britain Hangs Back As the U.S. Pays $2.2 Billion to Fight ISIS
Policy + Politics

Britain Hangs Back As the U.S. Pays $2.2 Billion to Fight ISIS

Two things can be said with certainty about the U.S.-led coalition’s nine-month campaign to crush the powerful and resilient ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria: President Obama was right in predicting that the airstrikes and related ground action could last for years to come, and the United States will provide the vast majority of air power and related costs

Last September, Obama announced in a prime-time televised speech an open-ended campaign to combat the threat posed by the murderous ISIS forces by greatly expanding a counterterrorism strategy and enlisting the support of scores of allies. The president said that the United States would join “with our friends and allies to degrade, and ultimately destroy, the terrorist group.”

Related: Why America’s War with ISIS Will Take Years

Rather than deploying U.S. combat troops to seek out and destroy the enemy, he said, the campaign would be waged with a “steady, relentless effort” conducted through airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

While the administration can definitely cite a few important breakthroughs – including the Iraqi allied ground forces’ victory against ISIS recently – the terrorist group has become too entrenched and widespread to defeat in the foreseeable future.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March:  “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch’” and is unable to conduct major operations. But as Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations writes, “There’s no end in sight for an air campaign that has killed some 8,500 militants and cost more than $2 billion.” One of the biggest problems, he says, is that there aren’t enough competent Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces to do the job.

“The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by ISIS,” Zenko wrote. “However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat [ISIS] militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking.” 

Related: How ISIS Could Drag the U.S. into a Ground Fight

Zenko’s second point was that even with a “united front” of nearly five dozen allied countries, the U.S. is doing most of the heavy lifting in waging the air war against ISIS. His point gained added resonance after British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party scored a surprising and convincing victory last week to gain a second term.

Cameron has sought to steer his country on a centrist path that included tough austerity measures and a dramatic scaling back of the United Kingdom’s military presence overseas. Those policies were only reinforced by Cameron’s strong showing at the polls.

After losing a crucial 2013 parliamentary vote authorizing military force in Syria, Cameron has pulled Britain back from global affairs,” as The Washington Post recently noted, allowing  other countries to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the alarming growth in strength  of ISIS. Last January, President Obama reportedly told Cameron that Britain must adhere to its military spending commitment to NATO or set a damaging example to its European allies. Obama and other U.S. military officials have said that Britain’s failure to hit a military spending target of two percent of its GDP would be a serious blow to the military alliance.

Since the Great Recession, the British Army lost fully 20 percent of its troops--from 102,000 to 82,000 since 2010. According to press reports, there are plans to add reservists. 

Related: Cameron touts UK vote win as mandate for "tough" EU renegotiation

British aircraft and unmanned drones have been used to attack ISIS emplacements in Iraq with more than 200 bombs and missiles, according to a new report by The Guardian. ISIS targets included 20 buildings, at least two containers and 65 trucks.  As the Guardian noted, British air operations are a small fraction of those carried out by U.S. aircraft and drones, which have struck more than 6,000 targets as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to recent Pentagon figures.

As Zenko wrote, U.S. officials have done everything they can to stress the contribution being made by coalition members in waging air ware against ISIS. Last September, the U.S. even refused to expand the scope of its targets until those partners publicly committed their support.  “It is no surprise, given its vastly larger and more proficient aerial capabilities, that the United States has been the primary source of all airstrikes against ISIS, even while the number of participating militaries has increased from 9 to 12 since September.”

The following table shows the breakdown of coalition support for the 3,731 air strikes against ISIS.

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