Basile Simon (blog) Data, hackery, stories

Is the US-led coalition lacking intelligence in Iraq and Syria?

It has now been 18 weeks since the US-led coalition started bombing the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. 1,276 air strikes have been reported by the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) and before that, by CentCom, but the efficiency of these strikes is being questioned.

The US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) releases every month its airpower summaries as part of its transparency effort. Currently listed in these summaries are the two operations involving the US military: operation 'Enduring Freedom' (the numbers also include the ISAF mission), in Afghanistan, and operation 'Inherent Resolve', in Iraq and Syria.

It is worth noting before comparing these two operations that the Afghan campaign has been winding down for some time now, while the air war in Iraq and Syria is ramping up.

A massive bombing campaign

Number of weapons released by AFCENT

The number of weapons released in Iraqi and Syrian skies show that the scale of the operation is massive, and that the air war in these countries has been, since the beginning, way larger than the one in Afghanistan.

According the AFCENT report, in October only, 1,641 bombs were dropped in Iraq/Syria, compared to 217 in Afghanistan.

Over the last four months, the tally shows 1,182 weapons releases on Afghanistan, for 4,019 in Iraq/Syria - more than three times more bombs.

Unsufficient intelligence sorties?

Number of intel, surveillance, and reconnaissance sorties

The two operations differ on another level: while the US fly large amounts of reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan, these missions are much less frequent in Iraq/Syria, despite the much more massive bombings.

According to the same AFCENT report, there are 5 to 10 times more 'Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance sorties' in Afghanistan than in Iraq/Syria. The total of ISR sorties in Afghanistan is 12,085, against only 1,622 in Iraq and Syria combined, for the same period.

Such a discrepancy between the amount of reconnaissance and the bombings asks the question of the quality of the intelligence received by the allies for this campaign - in particular when it comes to civilian casualties. As a reminder, our monitoring of civilian casualties claims in Iraq and Syria for the duration of the campaign estimates them at more than 100 so far.

The consequences of insufficient intelligence can be disastrous for civilians. As Business Week mentioned in June 2014, the absence of boots on the ground can make the intelligence even more difficult to rely on - the article cited calls for a local Iraqi support of the US forces.

Even when the military claims its prudence and exemplarity, notes the New York Times about the Libyan war, civilians may pay the price of bombs dropped by fighter jets from kilometers away.

After all, the Geneva Convention, Protocol I, dictates that "at all times [belligerents must] distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives their operations only against military objectives."

Read more: Drone 'Shortage' Hampers ISIS War - The Daily Beast, 18th Nov. 2014