The U.S.-led coalition waging the air war against the Islamic State released 4,374 weapons in Iraq and Syria in May — by far the most of any month since the war began.
The pace of airstrikes under Operation Inherent Resolve has grown increasingly aggressive throughout 2017. In January, the coalition dropped 3,600 weapons, which set a new record, according to statistics posted online by U.S. Air Forces Central Command. In March, the number of weapons released surpassed even that and reached 3,878, before dropping down slightly to 3,274 in April.
AFCENT said that the bulk of the weapons released were precision-guided munitions supporting Iraqi ground forces and allied Syrian rebels fighting in the contentious ISIS strongholds in West Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. The nearly 34 percent spike over the past month — 23 percent higher than the average number of strikes in the first four months of 2017 — was directly due to "the accelerated pace of operations as ISIS is driven into increasingly smaller pockets by partner ground forces," AFCENT said.
Most of the targets included ISIS fighting positions, tactical vehicles and heavy weaponry, oil infrastructure, car bombs and related facilities, and buildings being used by ISIS as headquarters, safehouses, security and media centers, AFCENT said.
"Coalition airpower continued to play a decisive role in destroying ISIS' fighting capacity and eroding its control over territory and people," AFCENT said.
Meanwhile, weapons released in Afghanistan under Operation Freedom's Sentinel dropped slightly from the five-year high of 460 in April to 328 in May. However, May's total is also the second-highest since September 2014, and the only other month since then in which the number of weapons released topped 300.
AFCENT said there was a decrease in terrain denial strikes between April and May, though, overall, operations continue as normal. Airstrikes have increased as the coalition has tried to rout out the affiliate group ISIS-Khorasan, AFCENT said.
"This is the first spring fighting season since U.S. forces were granted expanded authorities to increase our 'strategic effect' strikes, which include terrain and route denial, as well as strikes for psychological effect," AFCENT said.
The statistics do not account for all coalition weapons released, only weapons released by aircraft under Combined Forces Air Component Commander, or CFACC, control, which includes aircraft from all U.S. military branches and coalition aircraft. Not all aircraft flying in the area fall under CFACC control, however. Military Times also found that potentially thousands of airstrikes over the years -- such as strikes conducted by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the Army -- are not included in AFCENT statistics, meaning the actual number of weapons released could be higher.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.