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U.S. Airstrikes Over Northern Syria To Be Increased

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

U.S. airstrikes are evolving in Syria. That's according to a U.S. official who described a plan to, quote, "thicken" the air attacks in the northern part of the country. To find what that means and more, we've reached the commander of those airstrikes in Syria. He also commands operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. He is Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, based in Qatar. Welcome to the program, sir.

CHARLES BROWN: It's my pleasure to be with you today.

INSKEEP: What is changing over northern Syria?

BROWN: Well, over northern Syria we're actually trying to increase the number of strikes we're doing all across all parts of northern Syria, which kind of leads to your point about thickening the air campaign in Syria.

INSKEEP: So when you say increasing the number of strikes, we've been told that the bottleneck here is intelligence, making sure that you actually have something that you can hit that you know you want to hit. Are you getting more intelligence that can lead to more accurate strikes?

BROWN: Well, it's a combination of things. It's the more intelligence, but it's also how we focus our efforts on the intelligence as we piece everything together. And we maybe have not been doing that as well as we could have in the past, but I think we're on the right track now.

INSKEEP: So what is that going to mean on the ground in your war against the Islamic State?

BROWN: Well, it'd mean a little more pressure on ISIL as far as the increased number of strikes. So between that and then also the movement of some of the indigenous forces will - the combination of the two will continue to increase more pressure on ISIL.

INSKEEP: Oh, indigenous forces there, of course, Syrian Arabs; there are Kurds who've been fighting against ISIS or ISIL and which you've been coordinating with. Of course, President Obama has approved sending a small number of special operations forces on the ground to those groups. Does that affect or improve your air campaign in any way?

BROWN: There'll be some pluses to it because a little closer coordination. You know, our special operators have already been coordinating with those forces. But what that closer coordination will - increase our opportunity to add additional strikes.

INSKEEP: General, can I ask about frustration that we've heard from some of your own pilots? I've seen an email from an A-10 pilot who said, I've never been more frustrated because he has to get special permission for every strike because there's so much caution because there have been so few strikes. Have you heard those kinds of concerns?

BROWN: I have. But, you know, he's a young aviator. I think I would have maybe some of the same - maybe the same frustrations. But if you look at it from a bigger picture, you know, if you go back here over the past few months, we've actually increased the number of strikes. So I don't think that's an issue anymore. But part of this, too, is we're doing over watch. We've got to have airpower at the right at the right time, which means you may not get the strike right away.

INSKEEP: One other thing, general. Our colleague David Welna reported elsewhere on today's program from Congress about Republicans who do not want to weigh in, don't really want to vote on the Syrian operations. And they say that's because there is no strategy. There's nothing to endorse. Do you feel that there is a strategy to win against ISIS in Syria?

BROWN: Well, the military here is part of a bigger strategy. So between the combination of military effort, plus a democratic effort, there is a strategy. And we're executing our portion of the strategy to continue to, you know, disrupt, dismantle and destroy Daesh. That will happen with time.

INSKEEP: A strategy to win, not just to contain them?

BROWN: Well, I mean, it's tough to define win, and - because striking - ideally, we would like to win. But you're also working against an ideology, and those are not easy do just with military might.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you're making progress?

BROWN: I do. I'm very confident we're making progress. And I can take a look at how ISIL has not had any major offenses, at least in the time I've been here. And I've been here since the beginning of July, and we're continuing to see - as I read in the intel - that we're continuing to have an impact on ISIL.

INSKEEP: General, thanks very much for your time, really appreciate it.

BROWN: OK, no problem. My pleasure, again, to be with you.

INSKEEP: That is Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, head of the U.S. Air Force Central Command at Qatar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.