US airstrikes against ISIS reportedly suffer from intelligence gaps

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U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are proceeding despite intelligence gaps that inhibit the Pentagon’s ability to determine their effectiveness, according to a published report.

The Associated Press, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that the Defense Department is relying on satellites, drones and surveillance flights to pinpoint targets for airstrikes, as well as assess the damage afterward and determine whether civilians were killed. Officials say that system stands in sharp contrast to the networks of bases, spies and ground-based technology the U.S. had in place during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. military says airstrikes have been discriminating and effective in disrupting an Al Qaeda cell called the Khorasan Group and in halting the momentum of Islamic State militants. But independent analysts say the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, remains on the offensive in Iraq and Syria, where it still controls large sections. And according to witnesses, U.S. airstrikes have at times hit empty buildings that were long ago vacated by ISIS fighters.

The group has begun adapting to U.S. airstrikes by seeking to conceal itself, move at night and blend in with civilians, Pentagon officials say.

“They’re a smart adversary,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, briefing reporters at the Pentagon this week.

Human rights groups also claim coalition airstrikes in both countries have killed as many as two dozen civilians. U.S. officials say they can’t rule out civilian deaths but haven’t confirmed any.

“We do take extreme caution and care in the conduct of these missions,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told reporters Tuesday. “But there’s risk in any military operation. There’s a special kind of risk when you do air operations.”

In terms of tracking the movements of militants, U.S. intelligence coverage of Syria and Iraq is not as good as it was in Pakistan..

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