The key Iraqi city of Ramadi has fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney says U.S. air power could have wiped out ISIS but the White House won’t use it out of fears of collateral damage.
Forces of the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been laying siege to Ramadi for months. Over the weekend, Iraqi troops fled the city, once again leaving considerable U.S. military equipment behind. Monday afternoon, Reuters reported that some 25,000 people are fleeing Ramadi to avoid savage treatment at the hands of ISIS.
Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province. It witnessed some of the most vicious fighting of the Iraq War and was also the scene of the Anbar Awakening, in which local Iraqis rejected Al Qaeda extremism and teamed with allied forces to stabilize the region.
Pentagon officials admit losing Ramadi is a “setback”. McInerney says that’s a major understatement.
“This is a huge loss for the allied forces. Nobody can discount it other than that,” he said. “It is vital to retaking all of Anbar and pushing ISIS out.”
McInerney, who flew combat missions in Vietnam and eventually rose to the third highest position in the Air Force, says the loss of Ramadi is even more infuriating because he believes it could have easily been avoided.
“It should not have happened. We were well aware of what was going on months in advance. We should have used our air power appropriately to stop them from doing it. I’m just amazed that we haven’t done it. We’ve averaged six or seven sorties a day. We ought to be doing hundreds a day to defeat them,” said McInerney.
While admitting the setback, Pentagon officials are also trying to downplay the significance of ISIS capturing Ramadi. They contend the ISIS siege lasted almost a year, so its eventual success wasn’t really all that impressive.
McInerney not only says that’s wrong but but that it also camouflages the real reason we’re not inflicting far more damage on the enemy.
“Well, why didn’t they destroy them when they had it surrounded. They were in easily locatable, geographical points that air power could have been used. The reason they didn’t is because the White House is running this war. The Pentagon is not. The Pentagon is only running excuses,” said McInerney.
What does he mean by the White House running the war?
“The White House is doing the targeting and the tasking. That should be done all in theater. They want to have an immaculate air campaign plan,” said McInerney. “They do not want to have any collateral damage. They are making it to be so pristine and so perfect that they’re not defeating the enemy.”
As a result, McInerney says a war that should have been over a long time ago is dragging on because of politics.
“They do not have a grip on it because this White House has micromanaged it worse than any time in our history. It’s very sad to see but this was something that could have easily been handled with the proper use of air power,” he said.
The news of Ramadi falling into ISIS hands came on the heels of significant good news in the battle, when U.S. Delta Force commandos successfully targeted and killed a major ISIS leader and took his wife into custody. Abu Sayyaf served as head of the terrorist group’s oil and gas ventures. Commandos were hoping to take him into custody as well.
“It was a brilliantly executed mission, absolutely brilliant. I’m amazed that we didn’t have some casualties. So I give the administration great credit for taking this action,” said McInerney.
But he says it once again begs the question about where decisive action has been during this campaign.
“If you can do this so perfectly, why couldn’t you defeat, why couldn’t you defeat those forces that were surrounding Ramadi. With all the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems we have, with all the precision-guided munitions we have, this should have been very easy,” said McInerney.