The Intel Challenge Against ISIS

The Air Force’s biggest challenge in the fight against ISIS is the ability to find good targets and avoid civilian casualties, but the coalition has evolved its intelligence processes to better ensure civilians are safe in the fight, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “We don’t bomb indiscriminately,” James said on Jan. 14 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “We bomb things we know to be illicit trade, or the bad guys, or command and control centers, or training operations. We need to know where they are.” The challenge is gathering enough intelligence information and being able to translate that information into a target, James said. The coalition has improved since the campaign kicked off in the summer of 2014, especially by enhancing its ability to synchronize with local ground forces. The US Air Force has taken the lead, not only in bombing, but also with this intelligence collection, mobility, and command and control, said James. However, there are limits to what airpower can do. The coalition’s ability to train local forces will shape the fight, James said. “Air[power] alone can do a lot of things, but it can’t ultimately govern territory and it can’t occupy territory,” James said. “We need to have indigenous forces trained and brought up to speed.” (See also: The Signal in th?e Noise.)