According to a September 1, 2015, story in the Washington Post that should surprise no one with even a passing knowledge of U.S. counterterrorism efforts over the last fifteen years, it appears the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are using unmanned aerial vehicles to target and kill Syrian-based leaders of the Islamic terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS, also known as ISIL and IS).
The story notes that the effort is being run separately from the conventional military’s larger campaign in Iraq and Syria, which also primarily involves airstrikes, and points out that the move represents an “escalation” of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) activities against ISIS.
This latter point is debatable, as one would assume the CTC has been in the ISIS-fighting game from the get-go, given the CTC’s core counterterrorism mission. More likely, the CTC has played a large part, and possibly even the lead role, from the start. They’ve no doubt been utilizing a stable of human assets to provide locational intelligence on ISIS leadership ever since the group came to prominence in recent years.
The article, by Greg Miller, goes on to point out that the new program of targeted strikes belies President Obama’s reported effort to move the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) away from paramilitary-style operations, and back to more traditional human intelligence gathering. Baked into that flawed effort is the false assumption that these drone strikes can be carried out without exactly the kind of human intelligence that only the CIA collects as well as it does.