Air strikes. Roughly 11,500 of them. There have been 7,800 in Iraq and 3,700 in Syria. So many of them, to rewind back to December of 2015, we were actually expending munitions faster than we could replenish them. That is how the fight against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve) has been largely defined thus far.

But what’s happening on the ground? Who is guiding missiles and selecting these targets? Although the air strikes will continue, 2016 and 2017 will focus on the ground offensive. Iraqi and Kurdish military forces, with the help of the U.S.-led coalition, will begin their push to drive ISIS out of Iraq and liberate major cities such as Mosul, a giant city of over one million people that I called home for a deployment back in 2004. Driving ISIS out of Iraq and back into its Syrian strongholds will be the first of many steps required to win this battle.

The American task force of roughly 50 soldiers (primarily special operations) in Syria and the few thousand service members in Iraq have the challenging task of hunting down and destroying ISIS forces in an area comparable in size to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana combined.

Unlike our previous foray into Iraq against both the insurgency and al-Qaeda forces, we currently know where the enemy is. They are not hiding in the shadows or among the civilian population. Phrases such as “behind enemy lines,” “enemy strongholds,” and “supply lines” have been relatively nonexistent in our 15-year hunt against Islamic terrorism—until now. Aside from operations against the Iraqi Army in 2003, this could be the most conventional fight U.S. soldiers will experience since 9/11.

At a glance: Our war against ISIS
Size comparison between the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the Iraq/Syria area of operations.

So who do we have on the ground, where are they, and what are they doing?

In Iraq:

We already know that Delta has been relatively active setting up safe houses, gathering intelligence, and conducting direct-action raids and hostage-rescue operations within both Iraq and Syria. The JSOC operators, according to a Department of Defense official, are part of a 200-person expeditionary targeting force (ETF). The ETF is currently operating under the same modus operandi as previous JSOC units, such as Task Force 145, Task Force 6-26, etc. It is safe to assume that a full Delta squadron, their support elements, and JSOC intelligence units make up the bulk of the ETF.

The Pentagon claims that roughly 3,900 service members are deployed throughout Iraq, and are responsible for providing security of key coalition bases and facilities, training and advising Iraqi forces, and establishing forward operating bases in preparation for offensive operations to retake Mosul.