Airpower in the War against ISIS

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Overview

Airpower in the War against ISIS chronicles the planning and conduct of Operation Inherent Resolve by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from August 2014 to mid-2018, with a principal focus on the contributions of U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT). Benjamin S. Lambeth contends that the war’s costly and excessive duration resulted from CENTCOM’s inaccurate assessment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), determining it was simply a resurrected Iraqi insurgency rather than recognizing it as the emerging proto-state that it actually was. This erroneous decision, Lambeth argues, saw the application of an inappropriate counterinsurgency strategy and use of rules of engagement that imposed needless restrictions on the most effective use of the precision air assets at CENTCOM’s disposal. The author, through expert analysis of recent history, forcefully argues that CENTCOM erred badly by not using its ample air assets at the outset not merely for supporting Iraq's initially noncombat-ready ground troops but also in an independent and uncompromising strategic interdiction campaign against ISIS's most vital center-of-gravity targets in Syria from the effort's first moments onward.

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Editorial Reviews

“Ben Lambeth's assessment of Operation Inherent Resolve offers a well-documented history of the coalition's four-year air war to defeat the Islamic State. Its main value, however, lies in its clinical unmasking of the initial misuse of airpower that occasioned a needlessly prolonged and costly endeavor. That initial misuse, in turn, stemmed from an inappropriate land-centric focus on the part of the campaign's most senior military overseers. Political leaders, defense professionals, and especially airmen at all levels should duly ponder this eminently avoidable failure as we look to the Department of Defense to chart a successful way ahead for embracing tomorrow's challenges.” —Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF (Ret.), Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, 1994-1997
“Ben Lambeth is the foremost authority on air warfare throughout the past three decades. His latest work highlights the decisive role played by airpower in defeating the Islamic State. He also shows how the Obama administration imposed needless constraints on its initial response and how U.S. Central Command's most senior leaders wrongly assessed and initially countered ISIS. Once CENTCOM adopted a wiser approach that made the most of coalition airpower's asymmetric edge, the results were immediate, dramatic and overwhelming. In due course, the would-be ISIS caliphate was decisively crushed.” —Phillip S. Meilinger, Dean Emeritus, USAF School of Advanced Airpower Studies and author of Limiting Risk in America's Wars: Airpower, Asymmetrics, and a New Strategic Paradigm
“Benjamin Lambeth offers a passionate and play-by-play review of the constraints that hindered the air war against ISIS during its initial phase. He also highlights the benefits that would have accrued from airpower's having been used from the start in ways that later figured prominently in finally tipping the balance. The United States may henceforth have to rely ever more on airpower as a substitute for its unpopular past overuse of ground forces in two long wars--wars that Lambeth persuasively argues might have been shorter had airpower been used more decisively. In all, a really nice, solid analysis.” —Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studie
Airpower in the War against ISIS, written by one of the most acute observers of military affairs today, chronicles the shift away from the initial restrictive rules of engagement that ultimately made possible the fall of ISIS, as well as the doctrinal and interservice battles that have taken place behind the scenes over the past three decades. Highly recommended for any student of military history.” —Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow, Stanford University and author of The End of History and the Last Man
“In his latest book Airpower in the War against ISIS, Ben Lambeth, America’s leading authority on modern air warfare, provides us an insightful, sobering and, at times, devastating assessment of U.S. and coalition air operations during the four-year war to defeat the Islamic State. Combining the detailed research, rigorous analysis and engaging writing style that are his trademarks, Lambeth takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the air war’s initial halting phase to its ultimately successful conclusion. Along the way, he reveals in searing detail the Obama administration’s lack of adequate planning and strategic focus. Ignoring hard-won lessons from earlier air campaigns, the White House imposed heavy restrictions on air operations, precluding their effectiveness. Nor does Lambeth spare CENTCOM’s military leaders who, having waged counterinsurgency warfare for a decade, failed to see that ISIS had acquired many targetable characteristics and vulnerabilities of an emerging state. He also shows how an effective air strategy was eventually devised and successfully pursued, and—just as important—why. Our country’s civilian and military leaders can read this book, or they can keep on learning the hard way.” —Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute and co-author of The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy
“No one is better qualified than Dr. Ben Lambeth to illuminate the vital role of combat airpower in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. He brings a lifetime of vibrant and incisive analysis to the challenges of using airpower effectively and efficiently on the battlefield, and his work here is superb.” —Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, 2009-2013 and author of Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character
“Dr. Ben Lambeth’s Airpower in the War against ISIS is a well-researched, highly readable, and exceptionally relevant study that presents concise and applicable lessons on airpower as a political instrument. It has much to offer students, researchers, and general readers who seek to develop an understanding of modern airpower in general and Operation Inherent Resolve in particular. As the author moves comfortably between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, he demonstrates the all-important interplay between statecraft and military force. This book is therefore just as relevant for political decision makers as for military professionals.” —Strategic Studies Quarterly
Airpower in the War Against ISIS, is an old school, truth-seeking missile…. If the subject is air operations, there is no better forensic analyst than Lambeth. He covers the spectrum of tactics, operations, and strategy – and the political context behind all three…. Lambeth’s book reminds us that unique analysis by bona fide military experts is still a good idea that still perks.” —American Thinker
“The latest book by Ben Lambeth provides significant detail on the airpower transition unfolded from counter-insurgency to the fight against the ISIS state…. Lambeth has provided a very good analysis of the dynamics going on when one campaign strategy which defined the use of airpower is allowed to shape what a different campaign strategy should have required.” —Defense.info
Airpower in the War Against ISIS is a treasure chest laden with knowledge, experience and insight. It is also well and accurately written.” —Seattle Pi
“Lambeth’s sharp, authoritative account of the role of airpower in the recent war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, points to the danger of holding stereotypical views of an enemy. Supported by numerous interviews with commanders and pilots, Lambeth’s argument includes many criticisms of senior civilian and military policymakers.” —Foreign Affairs
Airpower in the War Against ISIS represents another tour de force by airpower guru Ben Lambeth. The book is extraordinarily well researched, leveraging Lambeth’s access to primary actors and decision makers that has characterized his previous scholarship. The analysis in Airpower in the War Against ISIS is supported by over 700 endnotes, many of them primary sources, including in-depth interviews and email exchanges with key personnel ranging from enlisted warfighters and fighter pilots to senior leaders at the operational and strategic levels…. A thorough and timely enhancement to airpower scholarship [and] a must-read for those endeavoring to glean lessons for future airpower employment.” —Air and Space Power Journal
“This professional study provides an in-depth review of Operation Inherent Resolve that ran from August 2014 to early 2019. The author is presenting that first review of the subject that is available to general readers and it is a fascinating, insightful work that reads easily. Very highly recommended.” —FIRE Reviews
“... An important and highly detailed examination of the effectiveness of airpower fighting terrorist groups that control territory in largely ungoverned states.” —Perspectives on Terrorism
“Ben Lambeth delivers a superbly researched and very readable operational analysis of the war against ISIS, which U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) code-named Operation Inherent Resolve…. As he has done in his past writings about air warfare, Ben delivers a scholarly assessment that clearly describes where U.S. leadership, service interaction in joint operations and strategic decision making were flawed and what we need to do to ensure that future air warriors and political leaders learn from these mistakes. A truly excellent read!” —Wings of Gold
“Lambeth does a superb job of meticulously documenting the conduct of air employment during Operation Inherent Resolve in his latest book, Airpower in the War against ISIS…. A superb primer to be used alongside the USAF's latest published air doctrine to show what can happen when the most senior airman in the chain of command is unable to make the case for the most effective use of airpower.” —Daedalus Flyer

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