Intelligence Gaps in US Air War as Targeting Rules Loosened

US Has Little Idea What's in ISIS-Controlled Territory

Though the Obama Administration is continuing to escalate its air war against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, officials concede that there are significant intelligence gaps on exactly what they’re targeting or who they’re hitting.

The US hasn’t got spotters on the ground at all in Syria, and officials say they’re using surveillance drones and satellite images to try to figure out what’s on the ground, and where.

That’s not a great way to conduct and air war, clearly and has led the US to incidents like Monday’s attacks on grain silos in Syria which they assumed were “jihadist bases.”

It also makes the Pentagon’s claims that no civilians were slain even less credible, since they clearly have no way of confirming who they’re killing. In that respect, the administration has simply loosened the targeting rules, so the Pentagon doesn’t have to worry about it.

President Obama’s high profile May 2013 pledge that no airstrikes would be authorized without “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” simply doesn’t apply to the new war, according to the White House.

Officials are arguing that the ISIS war is “active hostilities” and that the standard of not killing civilians is not applicable in these cases.

The reality, though, is that the Pentagon simply has no way to have near-certainty without any clue what they’re bombing, and if they abide by that, they couldn’t conduct the air war. When the choice is between not having a war and killing civilians, the administration is going to choose killing the civilians every single time.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of