Planes from Ellsworth Air Force Base have dropped about 5,000 bombs this year as part of an escalated assault on the Islamic State group that has become the most dangerous terror group on the planet.
Much of the bombing by planes and pilots from Ellsworth predate the recent Paris terrorist attacks, according to the base commander.
Col. Gentry Boswell spoke for a half-hour and took questions for another half-hour Friday during a Black Hills Forum and Press Club event at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City.
“People are looking now at the Paris attacks saying, ‘When are we going to ramp up our operations?’” he said during a brief interview after the event. “Well, we actually did. We ramped up about a month or a month and a half ago.”
The Islamic State group, which has control of parts of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more in Paris.
Months before those attacks, B-1 bombers from Ellsworth became involved in a sustained air war against the Islamic State group.
Boswell said during his public presentation Friday that Ellsworth’s 34th Bomb Squadron dropped about 2,200 bombs, some in Afghanistan but mostly on Islamic State group targets in Iraq and Syria, during a six-month deployment that ended in July. That was the most bombs dropped during a six-month deployment by an American B-1 squadron in the last 10 years.
Since then, Ellsworth’s 37th Bomb Squadron, which deployed in July, has already surpassed that mark with more than 2,700 bombs dropped.
“We kill bad people and we break their things,” Boswell said during the presentation. “And we’re very good at it.”
While speaking with the Journal, Boswell said the Paris attacks did not affect his opinion about the effectiveness of the broader American-led air war, of which Ellsworth’s bombers are a part.
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According to a report this week by the Associated Press, that broader campaign is dropping an average of 2,228 bombs per month on Islamic State targets ranging from training camps and machine gun positions to oil facilities and weapons shacks. The attacks have cost the U.S. government $5 billion since August 2014 and are believed to have killed upward of 20,000 Islamic State group fighters.
Boswell said the United States should react but not overreact to the Paris attacks by assessing its efforts thus far and using that assessment to refine and continue aggressive airstrikes.
“The big thing is, we have to have perseverance in our strategy,” Boswell said. “We’re isolating them and disabling them on the battlefield and they’re less and less of a force.”
Boswell said he personally does not want to see American ground troops sent into the fight, because they would only become a common target and a recruiting tool for competing factions in what he called an Islamic civil war.
Before ascending the command chain, Boswell, who is 46, served as a weapons system officer with more than 4,500 hours in three different kinds of planes, including the B-1. He has 500 hours of combat time.
On Friday, he wore a green flight suit and spoke in rapid bursts while pacing along the front of the speaker’s platform. He described the recent air campaign against the Islamic State group as a period of peak activity during what has been a decade-long run of nearly constant deployments for Ellsworth.
The base, in Box Elder just east of Rapid City, has about 4,000 combined military and civilian personnel. In recent years, each of the base's two B-1 squadrons have participated in a six-month deployment rotation with the B-1 squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, which means Ellsworth typically has personnel on deployment for 12 out of every 18 months. Each deployment can include as many as 500 people.
Boswell said he expects the deployments to continue with increased cooperation from European partners as they react to the Paris attacks by the Islamic State group.
“As you can see just from the number of weapons we drop, pardon the pun, but business is booming,” Boswell said. “And folks, let me tell you right now having been in Iraq and Syria personally on the ground, I can tell you that you couldn’t ask to be fighting a more supremely evil bunch of people. They need to be dealt with.”
Boswell added that he feels the base is well-supported by its surrounding communities, and that the base should be protected against future closures due to its unique role, community support, and the recent approval of a massive new air space for training.