Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that only about a third of sorties drop their bombs in dynamic strikes in the fight against the Islamic State, though he defended the number as still being more effective than the Afghanistan air campaign.
About three of every four flights against the Islamic State come back to base with their bombs still in tow, according to Defense Department data. Lawmakers have criticized the department for this statistic, saying that it shows the need for more U.S. troops on the ground to call in close air support and provide better intelligence.
The drop rate also shows the need for less restrictive rules of engagement, lawmakers argue, though defense officials have said the rules are needed to prevent civilian casualties.
Mr. Carter told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that 93 percent of static strikes, meaning the pilot took off with a planned target such as a building or vehicle, drop their bombs. In dynamic strikes, which can include troop movement or other unplanned strikes, only about 37 percent of sorties drop a bomb.
“Our experience here is, in fact, better than Afghanistan,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Mr. Carter to put joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) on the ground in Iraq and Syria and talk with young pilots, whom he said are frustrated they are unable to strike terrorist fighters under current conditions.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he has not recommended that the president send U.S. joint terminal attack controllers, though he acknowledged they could make a difference in the effectiveness of strikes.
“JTACs are not a silver bullet in the fight against [the Islamic State],” he said. “The silver bullet is getting Iraqis to fight.”
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