How Obama Has Tied Our Hands In the Fight Against ISIS

Byron York, with help from senior military officers with intimate knowledge of our bombing campaign against ISIS, explains how President Obama has made it impossible to wage war successfully:

[T]he Pentagon announced Monday that American warplanes had struck a group of Islamic State trucks involved in the oil-smuggling business that brings the terrorist organization hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The strike, near Abu Kamal, in Syria, destroyed 116 fuel trucks out of nearly 300 massed in the area, according to the Pentagon. While U.S. forces engaged in the anti-Islamic State fight, Operation Inherent Resolve, have sometimes hit the Islamic State oil trucks before, Monday’s strike was “the first time that we’ve hit so many at once,” a coalition spokesman told AFP.

Obama announced the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State on Sept. 10, 2014, pledging to “redouble our efforts to cut off [Islamic State] funding.” Given that the oil-stealing business is the terrorist group’s financial lifeblood, why has it taken until now to hit the Islamic State’s oil transport capability in a significant way?

The answer, apparently, is that Obama was worried about civilian casualties. What if even one civilian driving an Islamic State truck, or near a truck, was killed in a U.S. attack? That concern, apparently, was enough to stop American forces from attacking a critical part of the Islamic State’s support system.

Obama’s rules of engagement hobble our military to an unprecedented extent:

Such worries are entirely consistent with the entire U.S. war against the Islamic State. “Our air campaign, since it began, has been the most restrictive in terms of rules of engagement that we have ever entered into in the last 25 years,” said Jack Keane, a retired Army four-star general who now chairs the Institute for the Study of War. “This has been largely due to the White House’s insistence that there be zero civilian casualties, at the behest of the president of the United States.”

In Abu Kamal, U.S. planes dropped leaflets before the attack, warning people — Islamic State, non-Islamic State, whoever — to leave before the assault began. After waiting for an hour, the U.S. planes struck.

Nothing like giving the enemy warning.

[I]t’s reasonable to question the administration’s judgment in waiting more than 14 months to ratchet up targeting of oil capacity. The Islamic State has made hundreds of millions from stolen oil in the interim.

And beyond oil, there is the larger question of American officials tying their own hands with such strict rules of engagement. Earlier this year, the Pentagon conceded that of its strike missions against the Islamic State — that is, fighter and bomber missions intended to drop bombs or fire missiles against Islamic State targets — only one in four actually dropped bombs or fired missiles. The rest flew around and came home.

So for the most part, our air campaign is a complete waste.

The reason, again, is the rules of engagement. “This has largely foreclosed our hitting moving targets in a timely manner,” said Gen. Keane, “because our pilots have to go through multiple levels of clearances, and eventually the target is lost. With fixed-site targets, if there are any civilians in the area, permission is usually denied, despite the fact that America has the best proven ability in the world to hit targets near civilian areas without hurting civilians.”

The Islamic State knows the Americans’ rules of engagement. The terrorists are well aware that U.S. pilots won’t hit anything if there is even a chance of hurting a civilian. So of course the Islamic State positions its fighters and equipment near civilians.

Even in obvious cases, like a gathering of 300 oil trucks — more than one-quarter of the Islamic State’s entire fleet — American pilots have held off attacking for more than a year, while the oil smuggling business made the Islamic State richer and richer and the terrorist organization extended its reach to the streets of Paris.

Is President Obama hostile to American security interests, or merely incompetent? As is so often the case, it is hard to tell.