How ISIS is bombed from a South Carolina facility

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The target was a poultry farm that ISIS had turned into a staging area. It was located in Syria but the planning for this air strike and hundreds like it was carried out some 6,000 miles away at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

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Analysts look over a satellite image to locate an ISIS target
CBS News

CBS News was given an inside look at the targeting center where intelligence analysts pour over satellite photos.

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Staff Sergeant Penney
CBS News

"In a way like a detective does, we put together the picture with all these bits of intelligence," said Staff Sergeant Penney.

In a typical week Penney and each of the other analysts investigate up to 20 different locations to find three legitimate targets.

"The ultimate intent is to build something that holds water that makes it to the end - that is strikeable," Penney told me.

It is a battle pitting the precision of American weapons against an enemy spread out across two countries.

"Precision is the ability to very specifically know the exact coordinates of any spot on the earth and to hit that spot down to let's say a foot," said Colonel Scott Murray, the chief intelligence officer for the air war.

Murray told us what it took to destroy a building ISIS was using as a weapons factory.

"It was quite the structure," said Murray. "It did take quite a few weapons to do it."

The first two hit and the building disappeared in a cloud of debris. But 18 more satellite guided bombs followed each with a delayed action fuse.

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An ISIS target is hit by a U.S. air strike
U.S. AIR FORCE

"It just allows the munition to penetrate deeper," said Murray.

The air campaign is an impressive display of American firepower, but is it winning the war against ISIS?Murray says the bombings have helped regain "approximately 700 square kilometers."

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Colonel Scott Murray
CBS News

That's all in Iraq where ISIS still holds 55,000 square kilometers it seized from Iraqi and Kurdish forces. In Syria ISIS is still expanding.

"ISIL has great leeway in northeast Syria," explained Murray. "They're not opposed on the ground in that region."

In March, the U.S. military plans to start training a force of about 5,000 fighters to oppose ISIS on the ground in Syria. But Pentagon officials say it will be late this year or early next before they are capable of taking back lost ground.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.