Pentagon: After 310 Air Strikes, 'ISIL Remains a Very Potent Force'

By Susan Jones | October 1, 2014 | 8:52am EDT

Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. (Photo: Department of Defense)

( - As of Tuesday, the U.S. and its coalition partners had conducted nearly 310 air attacks on Islamic terrorist targets, more than 230 in Iraq and 76 in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said.

And while the air campaign has forced the terrorists to change their tactics, "We still believe ISIL remains a very potent force," Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

"Yes, they've changed some of their tactics, there's absolutely no question about that, in response to the pressure that we put them under, but that doesn't make them less dangerous or less potent over time," Kirby said.

"Yes, they're blending in more. Yes, they're dispersing, and yes, they aren't communicating quite as openly or as boldly as they once were. That's a good thing, because if they aren't operating as freely, then they aren't as free to achieve their goals.

"That doesn't mean ISIL doesn't still pose a threat. It doesn't mean they aren't still trying and in some cases succeeding at taking and holding ground. No one said this would be easy or quick, and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate airstrikes. We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity."

The "most significant pressure" on ISIS/ISIL willcome from Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, who are "doing better," but are not "perfect."

Kirby warned reporters against thinking that air strikes will have an immediate strategic effect. "This is going to be a long struggle," he said. And he urged "a sense of strategic patience about this entire effort."

"This group will adapt, and we're going to have to adapt right along with them. And air strikes alone, you're just not going to bomb them away. It's not going to happen like that."

Kirby, asked about reports that Islamic fighters have come within five miles of Baghdad, said it's nothing new: "We have consistently seen them pose a threat to the capital city." Kirby said U.S., along with Iraqi security forces, "are trying to push them back," and "we're going to do what we can to help Iraqi security forces maintain control of the capital city."

'I fear for my people'

According to reports from Baghdad, coalition efforts may not be enough to  keep ISIS/ISIL out of Baghdad.

Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, is warning that the Islamic State terrorists are on the verge of entering the city.

He told Fox News Tuesday night that many people fear that the massacre of Christians that happened in Mosul are about to happen in Baghdad.

"I fear for my people. I fear for what could happen to my people," White said. And the Iraqi army, such as it is, is no comfort to him:

"I said to one of my soldiers today, if ISIS were coming towards you, what would you do? He said, take off my uniform. Why are you in the army then? Why are you a soldier? What are you doing? Aren't you protecting us? He said, no, I'm in it because of the money. How can you put your complete trust in an army who responds like that?"

White said  he does not believe the U.S. air strikes will keep Baghdad secure. "No, not at all," he told Kelly. "Ive had people, our people killed by the air strikes. I don't know what is being achieved by them. But it's very, very little. The fact is, people like ISIS can only be controlled by troops on the ground. And where are they? We haven't got any."

Col. Oliver North told Fox News that Canon White understands better than the White House "what's really going on out there."

"Look, one of our very close friends out there said to me today that the Iraqi army is reeling, poorly led and fearful. And he said the bottom-line is, this isn't Saigon yet. It may well get to be. Because you don't have the kind of strength that you need on the ground. As the vicar points out very quickly, it takes real troops, rough men with rifles to defend a piece of terrain. You cannot do it simply with airplanes. Unfortunately that's all we're trying to do."

And what happens if Baghdad falls? Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked North:

"A bloodbath of biblical proportion," he responded. "I mean, we've already seen ...things that we would never put on the air. The footage of people being crucified, of having their heads severed, put on stakes, atrocities the likes of which we've not seen, certainly in my lifetime..."

'We must choose'

Aside from efforts to protect Baghdad, U.S. air strikes have hit ISIS/ISIL in or around Fallujah, across north-central Iraq to Mosul; along the Syrian border with Iraq and Turkey; and inside Syria.

"In other words, when we say we're going to go after them, we mean it," Adm. Kirby said.

"But I also think it's important to note that while we continue to hit them where they are, it doesn't mean we can or even that we should hit them everywhere they are at every moment. We must choose. We must discriminate between targets that matter more to us in space and time than others, and between those that run higher risks of collateral damage or civilian casualties.

"That's a major difference between us and them. We care about preserving life," Kirby said. "We're willing to be careful and patient and precise, even if that means having to wait for them to make a mistake or to make themselves more vulnerable. We've been pretty honest about the fact that military action alone will not win this effort, but that shouldn't be taken as an admission of ineffectiveness, and one of the ways we know we're having an effect is precisely because the terrorists have had to change their tactics and their communications and their command and control."

Kirby said if coalition air strikes prevent terrorists from operating freely in certain places, "then they aren't achieving as freely the goals that they're trying to achieve, either."

Asked about the al-Qaida offshoot called Khorasan group, Kirby said the Pentagon is still "assessing the effectiveness" of the strikes on that target inside Syria. "We do believe that we definitely degraded, damaged, destroyed some of their capabilities. There's no question about that.

"But I don't think we're in a position right now to say with 100 percent certainty that we foiled this specific attack or any future attack. We're still looking at it pretty closely. So, maybe a more crisp way of answering your question is we still believe the group poses a danger."

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