In a conflict often defined by uncertainty and slow progress, targeting and killing top Islamic State officials has been one of the U.S.’ successes against the group.
The targeting campaign is separate from the Pentagon-led airstrikes taking place in Syria and Iraq. According to The Associated Press, the CIA is leading the initiative to identify and kill leaders of the jihadi group, using drones, satellites and old-fashioned signals intelligence.
The CIA is executing the program together with the NSA and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC “pulls the trigger” after the CIA and NSA identify and locate targets. (RELATED: Delta’s Recent Raid In Syria May Have Revealed An Inconvenient Truth About Fighting ISIS)
Foreign agents provide information to the CIA about the group’s inner circle. The U.S. also relies on cooperation from Jordanian, Saudi and Kurdish spies. Basic eavesdropping also plays a role, including tracking “electronic signals emitted by communication devices” — a specialty of the NSA.
So far, the strategy has accomplished its goal, overcoming the basic obstacles that come with lack of U.S. personnel on the ground. Every few weeks, news emerges about the precise elimination of one or another Islamic State commander. In some cases, raids on leaders have yielded valuable intelligence on the group’s operations.
But the program may not be that effective for long-term American strategy against the group. A new RAND Corp. report suggests that targeting leaders will not weaken Islamic State for long due to its “deep bench” of operatives ready to step into the ranks of leadership.
In defending the program, a senior defense official told the AP that the targeting of leaders means that Islamic State is “constantly having to adjust” to the personnel deficit rather than dedicating energy to planning attacks.
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