WASHINGTON - U.S. and coalition jets have been quiet in the skies over Syria, failing to launch any airstrikes against remnants of the Islamic State terror group for a second consecutive month.
The U.S.-led military coalition said Wednesday there were no airstrikes in Syria between May 5 and June 3, while reporting 11 strikes in Iraq during the same period.
According to the statement, the strikes in Iraq targeted 16 IS tactical units and destroyed 21 IS caves, along with two vehicles and one so-called “bed-down” location.
The last time coalition planes targeted IS fighters in Syria came in the two-week period following the final victory over the terror group’s self-declared caliphate in the northeastern Syrian village of Baghuz on March 23.
Between March 24 and April 6, coalition aircraft carried out 29 strikes against 28 IS units, destroying dozens of vehicles, fighting positions and supply routes.
But since then, both coalition officials and officials with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have said the need for airstrikes has been minimal.
“The SDF are using tactics that are more surgical in nature as they root out Daesh sleeper cells, weapons caches and support bases,” coalition spokesman Col. Scoot Rawlinson told VOA last month, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
“With the end of linear combat operations that we saw as the SDF were pursuing Daesh fighters in territory they once controlled, the demand for larger weapon strikes like those that come from aerial systems has diminished,” Rawlinson added.
Still, there has been a steady stream of attacks targeting SDF forces, with IS sleeper cells using a variety of methods to target local commanders and others. Information compiled by a collection of Western and local journalists and media activists, indicates the pace of such attacks is rising.
The Rojava Information Center this week said there were 139 attacks by IS sleeper cells in northeastern Syria in May, an increase of 61% over the previous month.
It said the number of deaths also rose, 42% in May to 78, with increases even in previously secure areas.
During the height of the campaign to roll back the IS caliphate in Syria and Iraq, coalition airstrikes were seen as vital. SDF officials and others on the ground would describe how the mere presence of U.S. aircraft would cause IS fighters to think twice before launching attacks, while at the same time boosting the courage and confidence of the U.S.-backed forces on the ground.