Fighting militant factions with no air force of their own and limited air defenses has become the new normal for the US. Not having real intelligence on where the enemy is, however, is a relatively new problem.
In the ISIS war in Iraq, and especially Syria, limited US ground presence has meant little to no direct targeting intelligence. It’s also informing the decisions of US leaders on what the future of air wars is going to look like.
So far, the US has tried to replace proper intelligence with computers. That’s meant using Google Earth to see if they can pick out anything that looks bombable, and scouring social media pages for any photographs jihadists might have posted that have actionable intelligence in the background.
That doesn’t necessarily sound great, but officials are branding it the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which makes it sound high-tech, and like warfare maturing into the digital age. But does it work?
The Pentagon sure thinks so, though they’ve gone extremely out of their way to underreport the number of civilians they’ve killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. That makes the consequences of their targeting failures a lot less visible at the decision-makers’ level, since they never admit that it’s happening.
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