#1 U.S. bombers hold fire on Islamic State targets amid ground intel blackout by ThirstyMan 01.06.2015 03:52

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By Jacqueline Klimas, Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. bombing runs targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria returned to base without firing any weapons in the first four months of 2015, holding their fire mainly because of a lack of ground intelligence and raising questions about President Obama’s key tactic in pushing back an enemy that continues to expand its territory in the war zone.

Key lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated by the slow rate of U.S. bombing sorties, a frustration shared by a former Navy pilot who said in an interview that U.S. forces are clearly needed on the ground in Iraq to help provide targets for these pilots to hit.

Without ground forces, argues Cmdr. Christopher Harmer, a retired Navy helicopter pilot, U.S. airmen are essentially flying half-blind and, as a result, are returning to base with their bombs still in the bay.

“As long as the body politic or president or whoever is making decisions absolutely refuses to put American air controllers on ground, essentially pilots are flying with one eye closed,” Cmdr. Harmer said. “It’s almost impossible for pilots to designate between [Islamic State] fighters and coalition fighters.”

The U.S. conducted 7,319 sorties over Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in the first four months of 2015. Of those, only 1,859 flights — 25.4 percent — had at least one “weapons release,” according to data provided by United States Air Force Central Command. That means that only about one in every four flights dropped a bomb on an Islamic State target.

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For example, while the U.S. may have intelligence on the location of an Islamic State headquarters site, military leaders may be unwilling to strike because of its proximity to civilian sites, he said.

Still, he said there are many more dynamic targets where American air power could be effective in combat and help Iraqis gain an advantage on the battlefield if the U.S. had monitors on the ground.

But to make things work without a ground force and employing only air power, the rules of engagement must change, argues Richard Brennan, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp.

Mr. Brennan said the Islamic State, in adapting and responding to U.S. airstrikes, has started to intermingle its fighters with civilians to frustrate U.S. attacks from the air.

In an effort to protect civilian lives, the strict rules of engagement are doing the opposite by giving the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the opportunity to kill civilians, he said.

“Even though the United States isn’t doing the killing, by its inability to use force in all but the cases where they’re sure of not having collateral damage, we’re ceding the advantage to ISIS in many situations,” Mr. Brennan said.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015.../#ixzz3bnLCEwfY

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