This morning I saw the current operations of the United States against Daesh referred to as “Desert Drizzle.” I nearly spit out my drink in amusement, because it’s absolutely the truth.

In the twenty-four years since Operation Desert Storm, the decisive application of United States combat airpower has gone from the devastating force of a tidal wave down to that of a drippy faucet. We are a far, far cry from the absolutely dominating performance that has come to be expected of us in that arena.

So even though the number of strikes by U.S. warplanes still far outweighs those of other nations, our pilots are frustrated beyond belief at how restrictive their Rules of Engagement (ROE) are. While the recent strikes against the fuel convoys indicate an expansion of our targeting doctrine, the hypersensitivity to collateral damage is severely limiting our airpower’s effectiveness.

A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft after strike operations in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Jefferson S. Heiland)
A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft after strike operations in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Jefferson S. Heiland)

Over the past couple of days, France has been taking the fight directly into the heart of the Daesh capital of Raqqa, Syria. Inspired by the attacks in Paris, President Hollande vowed retribution and thus far he’s making good on that promise. On top of the French resolve, the FSB–the Russian Security Service–announced it had found traces of explosives in the wreckage of the Metrojet Airbus that went down over the Sinai Peninsula, confirming suspicions of an explosive device aboard.

Daesh has decided to poke the Bear. Any guesses as to how Putin might have responded to that provocation? If there are any doubts, it just might have looked like this:

The Russian Air Force mounted long-range strikes into Syria, involving 5 Tu-160 Blackjack, 6 Tu-95MS Bear, and 14 Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers. The Russian Ministry of Defense also confirmed strikes by Kalibr cruise missiles, most likely fired from Russian Navy warships and–possibly–submarines. In effect, these missions in the past two days have doubled the density of operations being carried out by Russian forces.

According to the Pentagon, as of today, the U.S. has launched 8,243 kinetic sorties against Daesh, with 2,841 strikes prosecuted in Syria. In the minds of some pilots flying missions, it’s eerily reminiscent of the frustration they encountered in the skies over Libya in 2011’s Operation Odyssey Dawn and later Operation Unified Protector. During those missions, the authorization to employ ordnance against time-sensitive targets or dynamic targets was often so long that targets would vanish into restricted operating zones, or disappear altogether.

Daesh isn’t stupid. They know how restrictive the ROE is, and they take full advantage of our inability to attack them by placing their critical functions, command and control nodes, and other high-value targets inside densely populated areas and beyond the reach of U.S. warplanes. Simply stated, the ROE does not allow for any civilian deaths whatsoever and any ordnance employed must be done so with the minimum amount of collateral damage possible.

The reality is our aircrews, in conjunction with the mission planners, advanced targeting pods, and precision-guided weapons, would be able to hit those targets without causing civilian casualties or much collateral damage. They have proven it over and over again, and not just in this theater of conflict.

The French are pissed. The Russians are pissed. Both countries have demonstrated their willingness to punch Daesh in the face…repeatedly, so it will be interesting to see if the United States will step up, finally, and be willing to do the same.

(Featured Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)