Former administration officials urge more airpower against ISIS

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The United States can increase its airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without increasing collateral damage, the former under secretary of Defense for intelligence said Tuesday.

“One of the things you see in these campaigns is that [while] collateral damage is obviously a critical concern, it does not go up with linearly with the intensity of strikes,” said Michael Vickers, who was the under secretary from 2011 to 2015. “You occasionally make mistakes, and so you have that 1 percent where, no matter how hard we tried, we’re not perfect. But there’s not this correlation by a factor of 10.”

Vickers made his remarks during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, where he, the former acting director of the CIA and the former U.S. ambassador to Syria recommended ways to step up the campaign against ISIS.

The Obama administration has been criticized for having rules of engagement that are more restrictive than the law of war in an effort to avoid any civilian casualties.

Vickers compared the air campaign against ISIS to the one against al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. During that time, he said, there were about eight times more strike sorties, but not significantly more collateral damage.

“We’re in generally a precision world right now,” he said. “So I think that we can responsibly intensify the air campaign. Because, as you said, if you do have collateral damage, you will defeat your purpose. You’ll turn more people against you.”

Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, agreed that the targets should be broadened, but was more cautious on collateral damage.

“I do think you need to be very careful that you don’t create a bigger problem than you solve by broadening the target set,” said Morell, who was acting director in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. “So, agree that it should be broadened, but broadened in the context of minimizing collateral damage.” 

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who previously said the rules of engagement tie the hands of the military, said after the hearing that he was encouraged by the panel’s recommendations.

“Incredible amount of expertise, including the Obama administration, and they all say we’re not doing enough,” said Thornberry, chairman of the committee. “They all say we need to be much more aggressive about the airpower that we’re using.”

Tags Iraq Mac Thornberry Michael Morell Michael Vickers Syria
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