Finding enough ISIS targets quickly enough to keep coalition strike aircraft busy is limiting the pace of operations over Iraq and Syria, said Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, head of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance on the Air Staff. “We are challenged in finding enough targets that the airplanes can hit, that meet the rules of engagement,” Otto told reporters in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 1. “If we could produce more targets that are strikable in accordance with the rules of engagement, then we could hit more targets,” given the strike assets available, he said. The US has been “very cautious” to avoid collateral damage that could fuel sympathy for ISIS’ cause, he said. “If you inadvertently—legally—kill innocent men, women, and children, then there’s a backlash, so we might kill three and create 10 terrorists,” he explained. In earlier conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan the US also had more “people who could identify targets that we could trust” on the ground. In the current fight both human intelligence and ground observation are just “not at the same level,” making targeting a slower, more arduous process for coalition ISR. (See also A New Way to Use JTACs.)
These are the complete remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Dec. 3, 2022, in Simi Valley, Calif.