With ISIS in crosshairs, U.S. holds back to protect civilians

American and allied warplanes are equipped with the most precise aerial arsenal ever fielded. But American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians. Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American-led coalition.

But many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, and that it illustrates the limitations of American air power in the Obama administration’s strategy. A persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters essentially free movement on the battlefield…

It appears that Islamic State troops are taking advantage of restrictions on how the coalition carries out its bombing campaign, with militants increasingly fighting from within civilian populations to deter attack…

“We have not taken the fight to these guys,” the pilot of an American A-10 attack plane said in a recent email. “We haven’t targeted their centers of gravity in Raqqa. All the roads between Syria and Iraq are still intact with trucks flowing freely.”