US Commander in Iraq: It Doesn't Only Matter Whether You Win, 'It Matters How You Win'

By Susan Jones | February 2, 2016 | 5:45am EST
U.S. Army Lt Gen. Sean MacFarland briefed reporters by teleconference from Iraq on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. (AP File Photo)

( - Army Lt. General Sean MacFarland, the U.S. commander directing the fight against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria, says the United States is "bound by the rules of armed conflict," so "indiscriminate bombing" is out of the question.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't only matter whether or not you win, it matters how you win," Gen. McFarland told reporters by teleconference from Iraq on Monday.

Quoting Winston Churchill, McFarland also said the U.S. is "closer to the end of the beginning of this campaign than we are to the beginning of the end."

A reporter told the general, "People begin to ask the question, so why isn't the U.S. military just engaging in so-called carpet bombing in Iraq, in Syria? ...The theory goes, if you would just do something like that, this would go much quicker."

"You know, as I mentioned earlier, we are bound by the laws of armed conflict," McFarland responded. "And, you know, at the end of the day, it doesn't only matter whether or not you win, it matters how you win. And we're the United States of America, and we have a set of guiding principles and those affect the way we as professional soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, conduct ourselves on the battlefield.

"So indiscriminate bombing, where we don't care if we're killing innocents or combatants, is just inconsistent with our values. And it's what the Russians have been accused of doing in parts of northwest Syria. Right now we have the moral high ground, and I think that's where we need to stay."

Earlier in the briefing, McFarland explained that the U.S. tries to minimize the potential loss of innocent life with every air strike it conducts.

"So we have these very sophisticated programs, computer programs, to look at density of urban terrain, and we and look at the weaponeering of our -- of our aircraft and the bombs that they drop to be as precise as we possibly can. And when we hit these targets, I mean, we'll drop multiple bombs through the same hole and completely contain the destructive effects within the confines of that building.

"That's the kind of precision that we bring to a fight, and we use that every single day, our airmen do, with their incredible skill and courage to protect the lives of innocent civilians even while we are degrading the finances of these terrible, terrible people known as ISIL."

McFarland said the U.S. is "making progress" in its effort to weaken Islamic State fighters from the air.

"The coalition conducted its first air strike in Iraq in August of 2014 and its first strike in Syria a month later. Since then, we've conducted over 10,000 strikes: about two-thirds of them in Iraq and about one-third in Syria."

He said the air strikes not only target the enemy on the front lines, they also target the enemy's banks and other funding mechanisms.

"The cumulative impact of our air strikes have ground the enemy down. When applied in support of our partners, we've forced the enemy to give up terrain."
He said ISIS now controls 40 percent less territory than it did at its height.

However, he added later, "The enemy is still strong in Syria, where we have no partnered opposition forces and the situation along the Mara line remains fluid. We will continue to have good days and bad days for a while longer in that area. But overall, the trend, I believe, is going in the right direction."

McFarland said the recapture of Ramadi (Iraq) was a "turning point" for the anti-ISIS coalition:

"The enemy suffered devastating losses and the Iraqi Security Forces have proven themselves capable of defeat Daesh, even when the enemy has all the advantages of prepared defense in an urban area. But we're not resting on our laurels. We understand that we are closer to the end of the beginning of this campaign, than we are to the beginning of the end, as Winston Churchill put it."

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