United States, Russia, France, Iran and the Kurds are attacking ISIS in Iraq and Syria
U.S. and its allies have conducted more than 8,000 strikes against ISIS
In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, allies in the fight against ISIS are signaling readiness to intensify attacks on the terrorist group’s strongholds in Syria and northern Iraq.
Germany is expected this week to give final approval to a military mission that includes up to 1,200 soldiers to be deployed in a “support role” against ISIS in Syria. British lawmakers will vote Wednesday on whether to conduct more airstrikes against the terror group’s Syrian strongholds.
A United States-led coalition has been attacking ISIS in Syria with airstrikes since August 2014. But other countries, including Russia – which isn’t part of the coalition – also are pummeling the terror group from the air. Arab nations, including Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have played smaller roles in the air onslaught. Kurdish fighters have joined the fighting on the ground. Here’s a look – in graphics and videos – at who’s been doing what in the growing battle.
The United States and its allies
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the U.S. military will send “a specialized expeditionary targeting force” aimed at conducting more raids in Iraq. A U.S. official told CNN that decision means there will be additional U.S. Special Operation forces on the ground in Iraq to fight ISIS.
The force is in addition to the “less than 50” Special Operations forces President Barack Obama authorized in October to aid in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
The U.S. and coalition partners have targeted ISIS with 8,289 airstrikes – 5,432 in Iraq and 2,857 in Syria, through November 19, the Pentagon says.
The U.S. alone has conducted the vast majority of strikes in both countries – 6,471 in Iraq and Syria. The rest of the coalition has performed 1,818 strikes in Iraq and Syria. In addition to the nations already mentioned in this story, the coalition includes Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
A majority of coalition airstrikes – roughly 66% – were aimed at targets in Iraq.
Much of what we know about the ongoing coalition air war in Iraq and Syria comes from the U.S. military through its own accounting. Airstrikes are conducted through Central Command, known as CENTCOM.
It’s hard to know exactly how much each nation other than the United States is contributing to the air campaign to defeat ISIS. That’s because each country reports what it’s doing differently and on different timetables.
The leader of the coalition, the United States, is leaving it up to each country to disclose what it wishes.
Airwars.org, a nonprofit, journalist-run organization tracking the air campaigns, details how each country is making information public.
Canada, for example, reports on every strike it carries out in Syria, Airwars notes, whereas Australia has reported monthly and does not provide information about exact targets in Iraq. At the start of the air campaign in late summer 2014, France’s Operation Chammal “aimed for a fair level of transparency,” Airwars said. The French defense ministry was reporting airstrikes within 24 hours and giving details about aircraft and weapons used and targets hit. France now reports weekly and target locations are rarely provided, the group said.
Nations hit back after ISIS attacks
When France hit ISIS after ISIS claimed credit for a terrorist attack that killed 130 in Paris, it made sure news reports had detailed information about French jets bombing Raqqa. France also had bombed ISIS targets even before the Paris attacks.
It was the same in Jordan in February after an ISIS video showed a captured Jordanian pilot appearing to be burned alive. State TV aired exclusive video footage of warplanes striking ISIS positions in Syria. The Jordanian armed forces said they hit and destroyed an ISIS training center and arms and ammunition depots. “This is just the beginning and you shall know who the Jordanians are,” the armed forces vowed on Jordanian broadcasting.
In July, Turkey launched its first airstrike against ISIS after ISIS conducted a cross-border attack that killed a Turkish soldier and a suicide bombing that killed more than 30 people in the southern Turkish province of Suruc.
Russia targets ISIS
Russia started to launch airstrikes in Syria this fall but tensions between Russia and Turkey were complicated when Turkey shot down a Russian plane that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane violated Turkish airspace. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Turkey of shooting down the plane to protect secret oil trade with the terrorist group ISIS. He said the plane was actually going to attack ISIS targets in Syria.
It’s unclear where the two countries stand with each other now.
Earlier in its participation in the coalition, Russia moved fighter jets, tanks, attack helicopters and other military equipment into Syria in late September and early October. The Russian Navy also started bombing targets in Syria in early October.
Russia said it was hitting ISIS targets, but the U.S. and others said many of the strikes hit rebels battling the Syrian government, a Russian ally.
On October 31, a Russian jetliner crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people. ISIS claimed credit for bombing the plane.
About five days after the Paris attacks, Russia bombarded Raqqa.
Are airstrikes enough?
Critics of the coalition campaign have said airstrikes are far from sufficient to defeat ISIS.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh wrote recently that it’s foolish to believe there’s a clear path to defeating the group militarily.
“Airstrikes and special operations forces strikes do eventually wear down insurgencies, as we saw in Afghanistan,” Paton Walsh said, adding that some Western military leaders came to see “the nightly raids against the Taliban were actually too effective, destroying the command structure and ensuring there were too few leaders left to talk to and calm down the young insurgents doing the fighting.”
But the time to intervene in Syria was 2012, when there was no ISIS, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not supported by Iran and Russia, he said.
“Now things are different. They just are. It’s too late.”
In the United States, several Republicans have criticized Obama’s tactics against ISIS as ineffective, saying airstrikes alone will not defeat the terrorists.
For many months, the United States has been firm in saying there would be no troops on the ground to battle ISIS.
That posture changed at the end of October when White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States was set to deploy troops on the ground in Syria for the first time.
Kurds and Iranians
Complicating the view from the ground, at least for the United States and its allies, is Iran’s involvement. The country is advising militias that are fighting ISIS, but there’s concern that Iranian involvement could inflame sectarian tensions, particularly in Iraq.
Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq have been fighting ISIS on the ground.
CNN has embedded with the Kurdish fighters, who have had a very tough fight made even harder because their weapons are old and they often don’t have enough supplies.
Volunteer Yazidis, the minority group ISIS attacked in Iraq’s Sinjar district last year, also have joined in ground combat.
The day of the Paris attacks, Kurdish forces said they had liberated Sinjar town from ISIS control after a two-day offensive.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Carolin Schmid in Berlin contributed to this report.