The Obama administration's strategy for convincing Americans that its efforts against the Islamic State are succeeding is all in the numbers: a careful tally of dead extremists, destroyed equipment and degraded capabilities.
The daily barrage of metrics is reminiscent of the daily "body counts" used to define success in another war half a century earlier: Vietnam. In that war, the body counts added up to defeat for the United States, which many former officials and analysts warn is where the administration's approach is headed if it doesn't take a broader view.
"We are due for a comprehensive review of the administration's strategy against ISIS," said Bilal Saab, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "We can continue to step up our kinetic efforts, but the overall plan to the extent that one is discernable lacks clear strategic guidance. Killing one bee at a time when you're dealing with a massive whole beehive is not exactly sound strategy."
But the administration's story is that its 65-nation coalition is winning against the Islamist extremist group, a story that's backed up by impressive numbers. As of Oct. 8, according to U.S. Central Command, 13,781 targets had been destroyed or damaged in more than 7,400 airstrikes, including 126 tanks, 3,956 buildings, 3,930 fighting positions and 232 targets associated with the group's attempts to exploit oil resources it has captured in Iraq and Syria.
Though military officials publicly shy away from trying to calculate how many Islamic State fighters have been killed, officials have privately told reporters the figure is about 20,000. And officials are not shy about letting reporters know when a strike has killed one of the group's leaders.