Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Always Check the Footnotes for Definitions

It has been clear that somebody is calling in strikes for our aircraft despite claims from the top of our government that no boots on the ground will be needed. While many are strikes that can be done with recon aircraft, ground support missions in close proximity to friendly forces on the ground require trusted eyes on the target talking to our aircraft crew.

So far, our military people are away from the action:

U.S. military officials say the techniques include low-tech workarounds, such as Iraqi commanders using cellphones to request airstrikes.The requests are screened at a joint operations center far from the combat, where a team of American officials quickly verifies the information provided by the Iraqis before approving strikes. One center is in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, and one is in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The team uses reports from the ground commander along with what the pilot sees and independent "intelligence assets" before approving a strike, said Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

I'll guess that "intelligence assets" means former military people (American and allied) skilled in working with our planes who have been hired by the CIA. So technically our uniformed military personnel do not have boots on the ground close to ISIL.

Our Air Force brass probably grits its teeth at this polite fiction since they've long claimed (against actual evidence) that only pilots acting as forward air controllers on the ground are fully qualified to call in close air support strikes.

But even this will be insufficient when we finally get to the offensive stage:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he does not see a need for U.S. advisers to accompany Iraqi forces now, but it may become necessary in the future, particularly when Iraqi forces launch an offensive to retake territory captured by the Islamic State.

Somebody has to do that job for air support to make any sense. That is such a basic piece of reality that I've assumed we'd find somebody to do the job notwithstanding White House declarations to the contrary.