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Here, at night in the heart of the caliphate, the only sound was the laughing of the ISIS fighters lounging about in the safety of their capital. The screams that had pierced the air when the jihadis had captured the Syrian city of Raqqa on the northern bank of the Euphrates were gone; those infidels who had not been butchered had fled.
But there was a rumble in the sky, but not like from one of the few American jets that would occasionally drop a bomb and then depart. No, this was deeper and more distant. The jihadis stopped talking to listen, puzzled. Then they and their world were torn apart.
The first wave of 12 B-52H’s emptied their bays of 750-pound dumb bombs directly over the heart of Raqqa, followed by a second wave, then a third. Crack Air Force ground crews were waiting back at the base in Saudi Arabia, and rearmament took less than two hours. Then they headed north again. In 24 hours, Raqqa ceased to exist.
One Month Earlier
“And those are our proposed courses of action, Mr. President,” concluded the CENTCOM commander.
“When I was elected, I told you I wanted to be briefed on your plan to utterly destroy ISIS, General,” the President said. He was young and usually quite calm, but as a Cuban-American son of immigrants, he understood tyranny and knew how to deal with it. “General, what you gave me are timid half-measures that don’t begin to meet the intent I expressed to you. Now, I may not have served myself, but I understand the old game of manipulating civilian leadership by providing just the options you want instead of the ones the commander-in-chief requested. You’re relieved of command, General. Fired. Agents, show the general out.”
He turned to his chief of staff. “Get the Wildman on the line.” As the Secret Service agents bum rushed the stunned four star out of the Oval Office, the President took the phone.
On a Florida golf course, the secure cell phone of the retired Marine everyone called “The Wildman” rang, ruining his putt. The Wildman was a legend for his aggression, hence his nickname. President Obama had naturally felt it necessary to replace him with a more pliable, passive CENTCOM commander. He answered, then listened.
“General, this is the President. We need you. I am ordering you off the retired list and back to active duty as CENTCOM commander, effective immediately. I want to see your plan for the total destruction of ISIS in 72 hours. Your rules of engagement are simple. Wipe them out.”
With Raqqa flattened, the President went on television to announce that America was again at war. Most Americans supported him. After all, he had been elected in the wake of the events of October 12, 2016, when ISIS sleepers in America had struck at shopping malls across the country. While the killers in Phoenix and Dallas had been unable to murder more than a half dozen because of armed citizens (police credited dead terrorists to a retired schoolteacher with a Glock 19 and an insurance salesman carrying a Kimber M1911A1), hundreds of defenseless Americans were massacred in gun-free shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago.
“Our goal is simple. We are going to destroy ISIS and kill its members. There will be no negotiations, no hesitation, no hands tied behind our backs. They wanted war. They will have it,” said the President. The new GOP Senate majority leader dispensed with the filibuster, and the declaration of war passed easily. The President also announced that all Americans must pay their fair share to support the war effort, and imposed a temporary 7% payroll tax on working Americans. Those not working must also pay their fair share too, he said; he signed a bill cutting all social programs 7% and shifting the savings to the military. The Democrats went ballistic; the President’s approval rating hit 60%.
The destruction of Raqqa was the first part of Operation Linebacker III, the leveraging of American air power to annihilate all urban centers controlled by ISIS forces. Covered from interference by Russian aircraft by a protective screen of F-22s, the B-52s worked their way from urban target to urban target, literally obliterating any ISIS-supporting town in Syria. This supported the Wildman’s strategy of depriving ISIS of any of the vestiges of an actual nation state. The caliphate, to the extent it governed anything, would rule over rubble.
In Kuwait, the huge storage facilities housing divisions worth of United States military equipment were activated, as airliners alerted for military service ferried in the heavy corps of United States Army troops and Marines to man it. They drew their gear and headed north back into Iraq over familiar roads to familiar staging areas. Logisticians worked 22 hour days supporting this massive movement of almost 150,000 troops.
At an airfield outside Irbil, the brave Kurds beheld a nearly endless series of C-17 cargo planes flying in with the weapons and ammunition Obama refused to supply. The Iraqi prime minister called the President to complain that he had never given permission for any of this; the President informed the Iraqi leader that America wasn’t asking.
All through western Iraq, the cell phones of local tribal leaders rang. American officers who had worked beside them fighting Al-Qaeda were now calling their old allies to give them a simple choice – support the Americans or die. Many detected the new tone and sat out the coming storm. Others did not – and they died.
The ISIS fighters, some veterans of the Iraqi insurgency, were confident that they could again bleed the Americans dry with hit-and-run tactics and IEDs, and that they would own everything outside of the wire around the Americans’ forward operating bases. But the Wildman was not fighting a counterinsurgency war. He was fighting a high-intensity conventional war, and the bullies and punks of ISIS did not remember what it was like to be on the receiving end of that tsunami back in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
The Wildman’s Commander’s Intent statement said nothing about winning hearts and minds: “You will attack aggressively in order to destroy all ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. You will kill all ISIS fighters who do not surrender. Your priority is the destruction of ISIS forces. The safety of civilians is secondary.”
The U.S. forces, backed only by a small Iraqi force to deal with prisoners and refugees, did not pause in their staging areas. Instead, they attacked in force hard and fast, armor leading, west and north up the line of towns and villages lining the fertile river courses of Iraq and Syria, supported by Kurdish forces attacking from the northeast. The American operations plan ignored the Syrian border; American units would attack and destroy ISIS forces wherever they were.
The jihadis initially attempted to dig in, believing the Americans would pause to root them out of the urban areas. Instead, the Americans leveled the towns, often using the napalm that had just been reintroduced into the American arsenal, and followed up with infantry. At first, the jihadis tried to hide behind the few remaining civilians but the Americans never hesitated, and ISIS quickly learned that to try to hold ground meant a swift death. That is why the planned assault on Mosul did not happen – the jihadis ran. But they could not retreat directly; the 82nd Airborne Division dropped across their path at the Iraqi border, cutting off their supply and retreat routes. Throughout the battlefield, small bands broke off and fled into the desert where they were mercilessly hunted down and killed by helicopter gunships and cavalry squadrons.
The Americans published daily body counts. This horrified liberals, but delighted the American people, who for too long had had no good news nor any way to measure success. And the Americans took few prisoners. Most of those they captured they handed off to the Iraqis; the lucky ones were shot quickly. The President had accepted the finding of the Department of Justice that all ISIS fighters were unlawful combatants not subject to Geneva Convention protections. They were like pirates of old, and piracy was stamped out only when governments began hanging them. So when American forces caught a band of ISIS fighters who had beheaded two captured American pilots, they were tried by a Marine court martial – the videotape they had unwisely made documenting their atrocity being the main evidence – and were shot by firing squad the next morning. The media was horrified when the President told a press conference, “If you murder Americans, you will die. Period.” His popularity rose to 70%.
It had been critical for ISIS to maintain its caliphate, a physical nation state-like territory where it could govern, where it could plan and train, and where the fools and psychopaths who bought into its sick philosophy could gather. The Wildman understood this, and he set out to ruthlessly dismember the Islamic State, to kill its members, and to demonstrate to a Middle East that doubted American power and resolve under the feckless Barack Obama that America was still the proverbial strong horse. There would be no half-measures, no ambiguous ending. America would crush ISIS; there could be no other outcome.
When the war ended after two months, the President’s popularity was 80% and the final body count was 26,763 ISIS fighters dead. The Islamic State was just a terrible memory. Iran, North Korea, Russia and China all saw and understood that they would need to govern themselves accordingly in the face of a post-Obama America. And it would be years before any terrorist group dared again threaten the United States.