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Coalition launches largest airstrike of the year against ISIL

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS) -- The U.S.-led coalition launched one of its largest airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant near Palmyra, Syria, Dec. 8, dealing a significant blow to the terrorist organization’s ability to finance and enable its means of war.

The strike packages, which included more than 20 aircraft from various locations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, achieved the functional destruction of 168 ISIL oil tankers. Coalition aircraft also executed an additional strike the following day destroying 20 more tankers operating within the same geographic area.

Since the inception of Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition has systematically targeted ISIL-affiliated oil infrastructure to eliminate millions of dollars in potential revenue. The most recent strike resulted in an estimated loss of $2 million.

Although the coalition has executed more than 17,000 strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the strategic strike against ISIL’s oil resources featured a new capability that is expected to significantly enhance the targeting of ISIL fighters and assets.

The recently developed Target Fusion Cell – an integrated cell of intelligence analysts, targeting experts and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tactical controllers – now enables expedited, historical data encompassing real-time discovery, development and vetting of potential ISIL-related targets. The strike against oil tankers in Syria serves as one of the core mission areas for the targeting cell, demonstrating a unique air component capability.

“We're bringing more information, fusing it, and providing it faster to the decision makers, which allows us to get ahead of ISIL. This allows us to positively identify targets and strike them before the enemy can deny us that opportunity,” said Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the Combined Force Air Component commander.

According to the chief of targets who oversees the cell, callsign Marvin, the TFC can significantly compress the amount of time required to locate the enemy, characterize enemy activity and develop a compelling “intelligence picture” built on analytical rigor for the Combined Air Operation Center’s Target Engagement Authority.

“What traditionally took weeks to months (in the CAOC) to develop, can take my team a matter of hours to days while maintaining the same detail, precision and confidence levels,” said Marvin in reference to the strike. “With the (Target) Fusion Cell, target analysts are integrated with ISR tacticians and collaborate with the CFACC’s reach back enterprise to rapidly pull together critical data on ISIL activities. TFC uniquely harnesses and leverages the full-spectrum targeting capabilities that the air component brings to the fight.”

In order to successfully develop a target, analysts go to great lengths to characterize an area; this includes movements, patterns of life and the impact on the civilian populous. Moreover, TFC’s ability to immediately direct ISR collection and analytical activities via the team’s ITC is one of the team’s unique advantages.

“The ITC is a tremendous capability for our team,” Marvin said. “Although special operations forces have used ITCs to control airborne ISR sensors since 2006, the CAOC has only had an ITC for a few months. In fact, Air Combat Command is resourcing U.S. Air Forces Central Command with three CFACC ITCs as a permanent part of the TFC in the coming months.”

Making this purpose-built targeting team agile enough to keep pace with the enemy, is the future of warfare, according to the 25-year combat veteran.

“Often times ISR collection management and the deliberate targeting process are not as flexible as we would like them to be or as adaptive as the enemy requires,” said Marvin. “But our new CFACC-organic fusion capability is able to overcome that by bringing all of our targeting capabilities together in time, space and purpose to dynamically and effectively get after ISIL. Bottomline, the CFACC’s Fusion Cell is able to adjust and adapt at the speed of war.”

Marvin added that one of greatest enhancements in capabilities presented by the TFC is the mitigation of collateral damage – a demonstrated mission success during the strike.

“As Airmen and warfighters, we go to great lengths to mitigate collateral damage and civilian causalities,” he said. “Our ability to attrite ISIL without collateral damage is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of what my team is able to accomplish.”

Post-strike assessments confirmed that even with a strike of this magnitude, there were zero civilian casualties.

“Operations of this order and magnitude have an immediate impact on the battlefield and strike a serious blow to the enemy,” Marvin said. “They force the adversary to change the way they do business and have an impact across the battlespace from Iraq to Syria.”

Moving forward, the TFC will continue to play a key role in operations to eradicate ISIL from Iraq and Syria.

“The TFC will help drive the fight in hunting down and eliminating this adversary,” Marvin said.