US now claims that only 30% of Russian airstrikes are against ISIL

by omouggos

US state official Brett McGurk has criticized Russia’s military intervention in Syria saying that it “has different objectives” than defeating ISIL.[1] He supported his contention by stating that only 30% of Russian airstrikes in Syria have targeted ISIL. McGurk’s comments are no surprise as since the beginning of Russia’s Syrian intervention the US has been critical of it and has been attempting to delegitimize it. In reality it appears that US officials, including McGurk, are distorting the situation to denigrate Russia.

Now why would I say such a thing? Well firstly American estimates of Russia’s targeting of ISIL have been inconsistent. Two months ago US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that “Greater than 90% of the strikes that we’ve seen them [Russia] take to date have not been against Isil or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists.[2] So first it was less than 10% of airstrikes but now it is 30%.

Of course it is plausible that Russia has increased their targeting of ISIL and since it was confirmed (on November 16) that Metrojet flight 9268 was downed by ISIL, this appears to be the case. However, Kirby’s estimate was likely an underestimation as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported (at the end of October) that of rebel fighters killed by Russian airstrikes ~30% have been from ISIL.[3] It seems unlikely that less than 10% of airstrikes would account for 30% of the total fatalities.[*]

So if the US State Department likely underestimated their first estimate of Russian airstrikes against ISIL, is it not likely that they would underestimate their more recent estimates? Furthermore, Kirby’s estimate lumped together both ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliated groups, while McGurk’s only considered ISIL. One wonders if McGurk accounted for Russian airstrikes against ISIL, Jabat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda groups, then what total percentage of Russian airstrikes would that amount to? Obviously greater than the 30% given by McGurk, but I suspect his estimate was carefully crafted to paint Russia’s Syrian intervention in the worst light possible.

McGurk also said that “Our air campaign in Syria, we think it is very effective and we have the data to back that up,” implying that America is doing more against ISIL than Russia. But is that really the case? If one just briefly reviews the data available then it becomes evident that McGurk is either mistaken or disingenuous.

For instance if we compare Russian and American operations against ISIL conducted on December 9, the Russians struck more ISIL targets than the US. On that day the US military struck 25 ISIL targets in both Syria and Iraq,[4] while Russian aircraft struck 204 targets in Syria,[5] and we assume that 30% of them were against ISIL, we can estimate that about 60 ISIL targets were hit by Russia.

Beyond December 9, if we review past daily reports by the US and Russia, it appears that US forces are hitting 20 to 40 ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq per day,[6] while the Russians have been consistently hitting hundreds of targets per day, which amounts to at least 30 to 60 ISIL targets (30% assumption).[7]

Furthermore, over a five day period Russian airstrikes destroyed over 1,000 oil tanker trucks belonging to ISIL.[8] How many such tankers did the more ‘effective’ US air force destroy? In a single day only 116 tanker trucks.[9]

Based on the presented data, even if as McGurk claims that only 30% of Russian airstrikes are against ISIL–which is likely an underestimation–Russia is still striking as many or more ISIL targets than America! So here we have the US attempting to impugn Russia’s efforts against ISIL, yet even based on America’s own propaganda, it should be America’s efforts against ISIL that is worthy of impugning. It just goes to show you how stupid the American government thinks the people of America and the world are for them to put forth such a narrative.

In conclusion it is apparent that the US is officially spreading misinformation to make it seem like they are intensely and successfully combating ISIL, while Russia is not and is instead serving its own interests. Of course Russia’s main goal in Syria is to prop up Bashar al-Assad, but that does not mean they are not seriously combating ISIL. The real question is, why does the US resort to such propaganda, when they could very easily increase the intensity of the anti-ISIL bombing campaign to match or exceed that of Russia’s? This is the question that needs answering, but I doubt that Brett McGurk will give us a straight answer.

O Mouggos


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[*] Although it is possible that for whatever reason that Russian airstrike against ISIL either are more lethal than against other groups or are less lethal. However until I have access to better data that implies otherwise, I will assume that the lethality of Russian airstrikes against ISIL should be comparable to that against other rebel groups.



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