The U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State militants is weakening the group’s hold in Iraq and Syria even after Gulf Arab allies scaled back airstrikes, though ground forces are needed to retake territory, senior U.S. Air Force officials said.
The coalition’s air campaign has killed thousands of fighters, including key leaders, and pushed back militants by hitting control and training centers as well as equipment and storage areas, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters Tuesday. Occupying or governing land will require “boots on the ground” including the Iraqi army, Syrian opposition fighters and Kurdish forces, which the U.S. is trying to train and equip, she said.
“It’s going to take years” to fight Islamic State, James said at the Dubai Air Show. “Ultimately, this area requires a political solution as well.”
The coalition has recently targeted Islamic State’s revenue sources, including oil facilities, Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters at the air show. The U.S. has moved A10 jets from Kuwait and tankers from Qatar to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to help in the campaign, he said.
Gulf Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been less involved in operations since March because they’ve been occupied fighting Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, he said.
James is scheduled to visit U.S. airmen and meet with officials in Kuwait, Qatar, Djibouti, Egypt and Morocco after leaving Dubai.