As the war against Islamic extremists escalates, the Air Force secretary said that airpower will make of the bulk of U.S. military's role in the conflict.

"Make no mistake about it, airpower will provide bold leadership in this coming fight and will secure the battlefield as we eradicate overtime this cancerous terrorist network," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James told an audience Monday at the Air Force Association's 2015 Air and Space Conference.

White House officials have begun building a coalition to go after the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but James said the Air Force will play a key role in President Obama's four-part strategy of defeating ISIL.

"Systematic airstrikes will help hold back ISIL forces and create space on the ground for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to go on the offense," James said.

The Air Force will also provide extensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to build situational awareness on the ground, she said.

Airman have already used unmanned drones and precision munitions in "pinpoint airstrikes on ISIL targets surrounding the Mosul damn which allowed Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake this vital asset," James said. "Airmen and ISR will be equally important in the operation to cut ISIL's network grows."

The assault on ISIL will also rely on the Air Force intelligence experts to counter ISIL strikes, James said.

Air Force lift capabilities will also be needed in any humanitarian efforts on the ground in the region, James said.

The service's C-130s and C-17s have already airdropped thousands of gallons of water and tons of food to help evacuate as many as 20,000 refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

"So for all of the talk that we go through in terms of boots on the ground and how many and what will they do -- I for one thank God every day that we have so many U.S. airmen boots in the air," James said.

The Air Force will continue to face tough fiscal challenges as leaders wrestle with how to deal with looming sequestration cuts in 2016, but the service will provide bold leadership against future enemies like ISIL.

It was Teddy Roosevelt decades ago that said "Speak softly and carry a big stick," James said.

"Well, I think it's time for a more modern day U.S. Air Force corollary to that statement because we speak softly and carry JDAMs and Hellfire Missiles."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@monster.com