Drone strikes on Islamic State leadership have largely led the way in the fight against the terrorist group, but one Air Force general has said the tactic alone won’t bring victory.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, the Air Force’s head of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, noted that striking ISIS leaders has only short term effects, as leaders are often replaced. Instead, targeting the group’s oil production and cash reserves has been significantly more effective.
“From my observation, when we take (high-value individuals) off the battlefield, there is a temporary impact on operations and then the adversary appoints someone else in his place,” said Otto in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “There has always been somebody else to move into those positions and the fight continues.”
“We cannot kill our way out of this war.”
ISIS has claimed that targeting leadership will not stop the group’s activities. In response to the strikes, ISIS fighters have created “counter-drone screens” made of cardboard and plywood to hide themselves.
“America, do you think that victory comes by killing a commander or more?” said ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed Adnani in a May recording. “We will not be deterred by your campaigns and you will not be victorious.”
The drone campaign targeting ISIS leadership derived from the “kill-capture” campaign used during the Iraqi insurgency and later in Afghanistan. Today’s program is run by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the inter-service body responsible for coordinating the military’s elite special operations forces under the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) umbrella.
JSOC refers to a confirmed leadership kill as a “jackpot,” and it has seen quite a few of them recently. One of the most recent strikes tageted the notorious Omar al-Shishani, also known as Omar the Chechen, in March. Shishani was considered one of ISIS’ most effective and popular field generals.
Drone strikes have become a mainstay of Obama’s foreign policy not only Iraq and Syria, but also Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In some cases, drone strikes have become a stand-in for having boots on the ground. For example, Pakistan alone has seen over 350 strikes since Obama’s tenure, despite the U.S. have no forces officially engaged on the ground in combat operations.
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