POLITICS

These Numbers Show That The U.S. Is At War With ISIS, Even If Congress Won’t Authorize It

Obama has tried to avoid a Middle East quagmire, but he's ended up in one anyway.

WASHINGTON -- What began in August 2014 as limited airstrikes in Iraq, aimed at protecting American diplomatic personnel and the minority Yazidi population from the Islamic State, has escalated into daily bombings against the militant group in both Iraq and Syria. 

Wary of starting another protracted occupation of a Middle Eastern country, President Barack Obama has tiptoed into this war, calling for greater military force only in a piecemeal fashion. Now, nearly 17 months into the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, it doesn't exactly feel like the U.S. is at war. Officially, Obama has kept his initial pledge not to deploy combat ground forces, although he has blurred the lines by allowing for several thousand on-the-ground advisory troops. And Congress, for its part, has yet to declare war or even authorize the military endeavors in Iraq and Syria.

However, it is clear that the U.S. is indeed at war with ISIS, and that the battle is likely to continue for years. As the first full calendar year of the war draws to a close, here’s a look at the scale of the current conflict:

Airstrikes: As of Dec. 22, the U.S. had conducted 4,115 strikes in Iraq and 2,903 in Syria since August of last year, totaling 7,018 airstrikes, according to the Defense Department. The other countries in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS launched an additional 2,023 attacks on targets in Iraq and Syria during the same time period.

Targets destroyed: The Defense Department says that the U.S.-led coalition has destroyed a total of 16,075 ISIS targets as of Nov. 13. Tanks, Humvees, buildings and oil infrastructure are all included in this category.

Cost: The war against ISIS has cost a total of $5.36 billion so far, which amounts to just over $11 million a day, according to Defense Department reporting from Nov. 30. The daily average cost has increased by $2 million since the earliest days of the war in August 2014.

U.S. ground troops: About 3,500. But didn’t Obama say he wouldn’t send any U.S. ground troops to Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS?

Yes, but the president started sending small groups of American troops to serve in an “advisory role” in Iraq back in June 2014, just after ISIS stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul. Since then, that number has gradually increased to 3,500.

In October, Obama announced plans to send an additional 50 Special Operations troops into Syria to advise local ground troops trained by the U.S. Before that, the only American troops authorized in Syria were those assigned to conduct quick raids against high-value targets.

American soldiers killed: Eleven, but only one is classified as killed in action. Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed during an October raid in Iraq and became the first publicly acknowledged American to die fighting ISIS. The Pentagon reports that 10 additional military personnel have died under “non-hostile” circumstances in the conflict.

Civilian casualties: Technically, 4. The Pentagon tracks allegations of civilian casualties and performs a formal investigation into those it deems credible. The military is currently assessing the credibility of two other allegations of civilian deaths. Earlier this year, a Pentagon official told The Daily Beast that it’s impossible to know for sure whether a civilian is killed in an airstrike, but that the military will not drop bombs on a target if they think civilians are present. Despite this vague assurance, it is extremely unlikely that the bombing campaign against ISIS has resulted in only 4 civilian casualties.

Number of war authorizations passed: 0. The White House claims it has the authority to deploy military force against ISIS under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which permitted the U.S. military to fight the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

Obama sent Congress a draft of a new, ISIS-specific war authorization in February. Crippled by partisan politics, however, lawmakers failed to move forward on that AUMF, or on an alternative proposal of their own. Instead, Congress has tacitly endorsed the Obama administration’s convoluted claim that the 2001 war authorization is sufficient.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of civilian casualties as zero. There were four.

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