By Kristina Wong - 06/05/15 01:13 PM EDT
U.S.-led airstrikes are killing more than 1,000 fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria every month, a top Pentagon official said Friday.
"Make no mistake our coalition team is having a profound effect on the enemy," said Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman, commander of the center of operations for the air campaign against ISIS.
"It's helped ground forces regain territory, remove more than 1,000 enemy fighters a month from the battlefield and eliminated the majority of Daesh ... fighting capability," he said.
It is the first time that a military official has offered an average monthly figure and follows Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken's estimate last week of more than 10,000 ISIS fighters killed.
The airstrike campaign, which began in August, is in its 10th month.
The coalition has been under criticism by Republican lawmakers and military experts who say the airstrikes are too few and that airmen are under too strict of regulations to make a significant dent in ISIS's fighting capabilities.
The criticism grew louder after ISIS was able to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, last month, as well as more territory in Syria.
Hesterman said estimates that 75 percent of aircraft return from missions without bombing the enemy were "probably right" but that that has been the number in air wars historically.
However, he said coalition forces were going "out of our way to protect innocent civilians."
"Because it's the right thing to do, and it's one of the things that separates us from the terrorists that we're fighting," he said.