• Official total of 'airstrikes' against ISIS terror network in Iraq hit 148 on Monday as Obama prepares to brief the nation Wednesday on his strategy
• But most of those strikes aim at, or destroy, more than one single target
• Pentagon insider tells MailOnline the administration has hit 'well over 500' targets including tanks, Humvees, bunkers, mortars and checkpoints
• Defense Department confirms that it's 'accurate' to say US forces are hitting more targets than the 'airstrike' totals would suggest
• As political winds shift in a hawkish direction, Obama may find it useful to claim credit for a more aggressive approach than the public has heard of
By David Martosko, Political Editor for Us MailOnline
Published: 16:55 EST, 8 September 2014 | Updated: 17:06 EST, 8 September 2014
The Pentagon has scrupulously cataloged the number of 'airstrikes' US forces have inflicted on the terrorism army that's running roughshod across Syrian and Iraq, but the official totals have lowballed the actual number of missile and bomb strikes considerably, MailOnline has learned.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) issues near-daily press releases announcing how many airstrikes have been launched, and updating its total - which stood at 148 on Monday afternoon.
A Pentagon insider familiar with logistics and planning in Iraq, however, told MailOnline on Friday that American aerial vehicles, including fighter jets and drones, 'have hit or destroyed well over 500 [targets] now.'
'The problem is that no one outside the [Department of Defense] knows what an airstrike is,' he said. 'Everybody thinks it's a single bomb.'
'But think of a B-17 [bomber] during World War II. Those planes could carry lots of 500-pound bombs - 15 or 16 of 'em - on a single mission,' he continued.
'Today we strap 11 missiles and bombs to the underside of a single F-18 Hornet jet, fire all of that hardware at ISIS, and we call it a single airstrike.'
The source, a career US Army officer, spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly about US military operations.
He also said a typical Predator drone can carry four Hellfire guided missiles at a time.
The Pentagon has been atypically transparent about both its airstrike totals and the nature of the targets it's destroying.
At the White House, a National Security Council spokesperson told MailOnline that the Obama administration is 'being very precise about that.'
'No one is lowballing the number of strikes,' the spokesperson said.
Still, the 'airstrike' numbers and 'target' numbers rarely line up neatly in military press releases. And that could provide an opportunity for the Obama administration as it strains to meet an anxious public's expectations of tough talk.
On Sunday, for instance, CENTCOM announced that the US military had 'conducted four airstrikes Saturday' against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which the Obama administration has referred to by its alternate name ISIL.
But that same announcement announced that 'the strikes destroyed five ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, an ISIL checkpoint and also damaged an ISIL bunker.'
Another strike near Mosul Dam, described in the press release, 'damaged an ISIL Humvee.'
Nine targets in all were destroyed or damaged.
Similarly, CENTCOM said Friday that 'four airstrikes' had destroyed seven targets - 'an ISIL observation post, one ISIL Humvee, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL truck, and three ISIL mortar positions.'
MailOnline's Pentagon source did not discus specific targets or describe what kinds of armaments or ammunition was being used in the Middle East.
Similarly, CENTCOM spokesman Major Curtis Kellogg said that 'we are not going into detail about specific numbers and types of aircraft platforms or the types and numbers of ordinance [sic] used in airstrikes.'
In emails on Friday, Kellogg confirmed that the US has hit more targets than the raw number of airstrikes would suggest, calling that conclusion 'accurate.'
'An airstrike may include one or more platforms engaging multiple targets,' he said.
As President Obama prepares to deliver a speech Wednesday in which he outlines a long-awaited strategy for attacking ISIS, both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are calling on him to get tough with the Islamist terror group.
The videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have set off a firestorm of criticism in Washington, with voices all across the political spectrum suggesting that the president has waited too long to assume an aggressive posture.
'The president is a failure in this area,' Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said Monday on the Fox News Channel, 'and I feel sad about it - and we will pay a heavy price in the end because he failed to act.'
And in a USA Today op-ed, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote Sunday that Obama 'must lead an aggressive, international effort to confront and eliminate ISIS, including sustained airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.'
'We either confront ISIS now or we'll have to confront it later - when it will be a much stronger enemy,' she said.
Obama himself is fighting a tough game of public perceptions fed by his widely varying statements about how the United States will handle the long-term threat ISIS poses to the American homeland.
Last week in Estonia, the president boasted that he aimed to 'degrade and destroy' ISIS. But minutes later he recast his ambitions in a softer light, talking about making the murderous terror group a 'manageable problem.'
That performance followed a disastrous moment at the White House when he stated that 'we do not have a strategy yet' to determine whether the US would chase ISIS into Syria in addition to striking it over Iraqi airspace.
But on Sunday in an appearance on the NBC News 'Meet The Press' program, he promised he would soon be 'preparing the country' for an armed confrontation.
'The next phase is now to start going on some offense,' he said, while qualifying his goals in the sense that they do not include 'US ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war. '
Already, Obama's chief spokesman Josh Earnest is touting his boss's military-offensive bona fides.
On Monday in the White House press room, Earnest boasted Obama's 'willingness to go wherever is necessary to strike those who are threatening Americans.'
In that environment, two Republican congressional staffers told MailOnline, it may soon be time for the Obama administration to replace its periodic tally of 'airstrikes' with a more meaningful count of ISIS targets the Pentagon has hit.
'Not too long ago, the president did not want to seem over-eager to pull the trigger,' one House of Representatives senior aide said, 'but now the game has changed. Why not do something to look tougher? If the numbers are there, use them. '
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