Airpower In The War Against ISIS

Airpower in the War against ISIS chronicles the planning and conduct of Operation Inherent Resolve by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from August 2014 to mid-2018, with a principal focus on the contributions of U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT). Benjamin S. Lambeth contends that the war’s costly and excessive duration resulted from CENTCOM’s inaccurate assessment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), determining it was simply a resurrected Iraqi insurgency rather than recognizing it as the emerging proto-state that it actually was. This erroneous decision, Lambeth argues, saw the application of an inappropriate counterinsurgency strategy and use of rules of engagement that imposed needless restrictions on the most effective use of the precision air assets at CENTCOM’s disposal. The author, through expert analysis of recent history, forcefully argues that CENTCOM erred badly by not using its ample air assets at the outset not merely for supporting Iraq’s initially noncombat-ready ground troops but also in an independent and uncompromising strategic interdiction campaign against ISIS’s most vital center-of-gravity targets in Syria from the effort’s first moments onward.


What is the backstory behind Airpower in the War against ISIS?

I have had a long and successful career as an international security affairs professional and air warfare specialist, and I have published extensively in these two broad fields, most notably including my Russia’s Air Power in Crisis (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999); The Transformation of American Air Power (Cornell University Press, 2000); NATO’s Air War for Kosovo (RAND Corporation, 2001); Mastering the Ultimate High Ground: Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space (RAND Corporation, 2003); Air Power against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom (RAND Corporation, 2005); American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New Century (RAND Corporation, 2005); Combat Pair: The Evolution of Air Force-Navy Integration in Strike Warfare (RAND Corporation, 2007); Air Operations in Israel’s War against Hezbollah: Learning from Lebanon and Getting It Right in Gaza (RAND Corporation, 2011); and The Unseen War: Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein (Naval Institute Press, 2013). The onset of the U.S. and the coalition air war against the Islamic State beginning in 2014 begged for a similar analytical treatment and led to this latest just-published study of mine.  

Was there an experience that you had that caused you to see a need for Airpower in the War against ISIS?

Yes, an op-ed article I published in The Washington Post on March 6, 2015, titled “Put Airpower to the Test: The U.S. Is Squandering Its Edge over the Islamic State,” appeared when the war against ISIS was less than a year old and was still going nowhere in terms of registering visible progress against the enemy. The manifold failings in leadership on the part of the Obama administration and U.S. Central Command at the campaign’s start indicated a need for a fuller diagnostic assessment of this combat effort that was ultimately successful but also was needlessly prolonged by as much as two years as a result of poor initial planning and priority-setting.

How has writing Airpower in the War against ISIS made you a better thinker and better person?

Research-based writing is a discipline, and the more of it one does, the better at it one steadily becomes over time.

What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will take from Airpower in the War against ISIS?

Well-endowed airpower is an exceptionally flexible and diverse tool of statecraft in peacetime and is often decisive force employment in wartime. However, it can never be more capable or effective than the quality of leadership and strategy it is expected to underwrite.

What advice would you have for a mid-career military officer who is considering writing a book?

Have an informed and thoughtful perspective to offer on a hitherto unexplored topic of likely professional interest to your colleagues, peers, and seniors.

What are you reading now?

Lieutenant General Perry M. Smith, Jr., USAF (Ret.), Listen Up! Stories of Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Pentagon, CNN and Beyond, Outskirts Press, 2021.

What books did you read, and recommend, which influenced your thinking on leadership?

What books had the most impact on you and your development?

Purchase Airpower in the War against ISIS here


Dr. Benjamin S. Lambeth assumed this position in July 2011 after a 37-year career as a Senior Research Associate at the RAND Corporation, where he remains an adjunct associate. Before joining RAND in 1975, he served in the Office of National Estimates at the Central Intelligence Agency. Prior to that, he worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for Defense Analyses. From 1970 to 1973, he was a Graduate Associate of the Center for International Affairs and a Teaching Fellow in Government at Harvard University.

A civil-rated pilot, Dr. Lambeth has flown or flown in more than 40 different types of fighter, attack, and jet trainer aircraft with the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and with eight foreign air forces worldwide. He also attended the USAF’s Tactical Fighter Weapons and Tactics Course and Combined Force Air Component Commander Course, the Aerospace Defense Command’s Senior Leaders’ Course, and portions of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Instructor’s Course. In 1988, he received initial qualification training and a front-seat checkout in the F/A-18 Hornet. In December 1989, he became the first U.S. citizen to fly the Soviet MiG-29 fighter and the first Westerner invited to fly a combat aircraft of any type inside Soviet airspace since the end of World War II. In 2002, he was elected an honorary member of the Order of Daedalians, the national fraternity of U.S. military pilots.

In 2008, Dr. Lambeth was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to serve an eight-year term as a member of the Board of Visitors of Air University, which he completed in 2016. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Air Force Association, the U.S. Naval Institute, the Association of Naval Aviation, the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, and the Editorial Advisory Boards of Air and Space Power Journal and Strategic Studies Quarterly. He is the author of The Transformation of American Air Power (Cornell University Press, 2000), which won the Air Force Association’s Gill Robb Wilson Award for Arts and Letters in 2001. He also wrote Russia’s Air Power in Crisis (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999); NATO’s Air War for Kosovo (RAND, 2001); Mastering the Ultimate High Ground: Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space (RAND, 2003); Air Power Against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom (RAND, 2005); Air Operations in Israel’s War Against Hezbollah (RAND, 2011); and The Unseen War:Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein (Naval Institute Press, 2013).

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