Airstrikes Hit ISIS Targets In Iraq And Syria

U.S. airstrikes are reported to have hit ISIS targets throughout Syria and Iraq Saturday, in spite of a fragile ceasefire established throughout the region.

Seven days after a ceasefire was brokered between the U.S., Russia, Assad's regime, and 97 other warring groups not associated with ISIS, people -- including civilians -- are still dying as a result of bombings and ground attacks.

According to the Guardian, the U.S. and its allies have struck up to 12 targets in Iraq, mainly near Ramadi, and two in Syria. Ramadi has served as an ISIS stronghold, while the group has taken control of Palmyra, in Syria, in mid-2015 and has served as a major tactical position for the Islamic State due to its command of the crossroads near the ancient city.

Although the ceasefire was agreed upon by most warring factions in Syria, the truce did not include ISIS or the al-Nusra Front, deeming the two fair game for air and ground assaults. The U.S. has continued its regularly scheduled bombings, and Russia has kept a tally of about nine violations in the past week.

Although the U.S. is rotating out their current bombers, the B-1 Lancer, the airstrikes on ISIS are not expected to end anytime soon. The New York Post is reporting that the United States Air Force is sending a squadron of its nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress on its first bombing campaign against ISIS targets.

"The B-1s are rotated out, so they're not here right now, they've gone back to do some upgrades," Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters.

The B-52s are significantly larger aircraft than the B-1 and have a payload capacity of 70,000 pounds. Heavy bombers such as these have only accounted for about 3 percent of airstrikes against ISIS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 135 people have been killed in the first week of the ceasefire, some of them due to airstrikes.

Many of these deaths can surely be accounted for in the ISIS attack on the Kurdish-held town of Tal Abyad, in which ISIS was reportedly "crushed" by YPJ forces. This attack occurred only hours after the ceasefire was made official on February 27.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy for the coalition to fight ISIS, told reporters that ISIS is losing the fight on several fronts, although it is now known as to when coalition forces will be expected to have retaken Raqqa, the ISIS capital, or Mosul.

"Daesh [ISIS] is feeling pressure now from all simultaneous directions and that's going to continue," McGurk said. "That's going to accelerate."

2016 has been hailed as the year of victory over ISIS, and perhaps the airstrikes have been a useful tool in overall progress that has led McGurk to his conclusion that Daesh is dying the slow and staggering death of war on multiple fronts.

Kurdish ground forces have made a significant contribution to the wearing down of ISIS, as well as the use of U.S. Special Forces groups engaging the enemy on the ground. On March 2, Delta Force was reported to have captured a major ISIS leader, who, after interrogation, will be released to the Kurdish officials for trial. It is not known what the significance of the capture will be, but anytime an enemy's leadership is brought down in war signals victory.

NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing said in an interview, "It is because the United States has focused mostly on airstrikes and training other forces on the ground up into this point. And what it wants to begin doing now is sending this so-called expeditionary targeting force after ISIS terrorists and bringing them back alive, capturing them and interrogating them as opposed to just blowing them up in airstrikes the way they were before. And they say that this will create new inputs or new process for the U.S. to be able to use for further operations against ISIL... They will not be going to Guantanamo Bay. U.S. national security officials say they do not want to get back into the terrorism detainee business."

The use of special forces groups, as well as the arming U.S. friendly groups on the ground, acts as a new chapter in the war against ISIS, which has been primarily waged through airstrikes in support of indigenous troops and militias. But airstrikes will continue to demoralize and deteriorate ISIS forces until the war is won against the Islamic militants.

[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]