In the national security decision-making process and military operations, more often than not, intelligence drives action. Actionable intelligence, that is, timely and accurate information about a target of interest, is the most precious commodity.
There are numerous ways to gather actionable intelligence: Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is highly valued but very difficult to acquire as it requires experienced officers on the ground. Additionally, HUMINT often comes with a time-lag that frustrates prompt action.
Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), on the other hand, is a safer and faster option since it usually requires an aerial platform of some sort, for example, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), aircraft, or satellite, to orbit above the target. However, IMINT still needs to be analyzed by experts that will squeeze out any useful information. Moreover, there is often the possibility that things will escape the unblinking eyes of technology, and this has been proven numerous times in the last two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, during the planning of Operation Anaconda against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2002, IMINT didn’t find any targets of interest in the Shahi-Kot valley. However, joint Advance Force Operations (AFO) teams from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), CIA, and 5th Special Forces Group were able to locate the enemy, which had used old-school techniques such as camouflage tarps and Mark I foliage to hide. The result was a largely-successful operation, which also proved controversial because of the subsequent events on Robert’s Ridge.