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Despite Coalition Partners, U.S. Has Done Most Airstrikes Against ISIS


The Obama administration says there is no evidence that Kayla Mueller, as ISIS has claimed, was killed by a Jordanian airstrike. Jordan has stepped up its air attacks after ISIS killed a Jordanian pilot in its custody. Three other Arab states are also part of the coalition against ISIS. But there are questions about how often those Arab states have taken part in the strikes. We're joined now by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hi, Tom.


SIEGEL: Inside Syria, the United States and its partners have been conducting airstrikes since September. How many are by the U.S. and how many by the four Arab states?

BOWMAN: Well, Robert, the Pentagon says as of Wednesday, just in Syria now, there were 946 strikes by the U.S. and another 79 strikes by those four Arab states combined. That's Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And, by the way, not one of those Arab states is dropping bombs inside Iraq. So it's lopsided. The U.S. is doing more than 90 percent of all the bombing runs in Syria.

SIEGEL: More than 90 percent? But the U.S. has made a point of claiming that this is a coalition. Has the U.S. military overstated the role of the Arab states?

BOWMAN: I think they have. They've inflated the importance on the military side of the Arab states, or at least confuse the picture. And that's - what we're talking about here is more international politics. Having the Arab states join in on the attacks against another Arab state is important diplomatically.

The U.S. military each day puts out a press release on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. They say where the strikes took place, but they don't give a breakdown of which country dropped what bombs where. They just list all the coalition members.

SIEGEL: Now, we've learned that at least one of those countries, the United Arab Emirates, stopped flying in December. Did the U.S. still claim that the country's pilots were flying?

BOWMAN: Yes, and they were misleading. Those press releases I mentioned listed the coalition countries, saying they were, quote, "conducting airstrikes." Now, just a couple of days ago, after reports that the UAE had pulled out in December, Centcom changed the language, saying these countries, quote, "have conducted airstrikes." Now, the UAE, by the way, had stopped flying because they said the U.S. wasn't providing enough rescue aircraft to recover downed pilots. The U.S. just sent some Black Hawk helicopters to northern Iraq for that reason. And we're hearing the UAE, who I'm told by the way that have the best pilots of the Arab countries, could resume combat missions soon.

SIEGEL: Now, Jordan has said that it plans to ramp up its role in the air campaign. Is that likely to make a difference?

BOWMAN: Not really. This is really - is more political theater. The king has to show resolve. He's put on a military uniform, but he has a very small air force. Now, for the U.S., their big weapon is the B-1 Bomber. Each one can carry two dozen 2,000-pound bombs.

Now, remember that air campaign around the border town of Kobani? Half the strikes there were conducted by just a handful of B-1 Bombers. So again, the participation of the Arab states in this air campaign is really more important on the political side than on the military side.

SIEGEL: What you're saying is that actually the imbalance of the number of airstrikes, as great as it is, over 90 percent U.S., that's less than the imbalance of tonnage that's actually been dropped probably by the planes?

BOWMAN: That's right. Absolutely.

SIEGEL: OK. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.