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Lt. Col. Rick Francona: U.S. needs eyes on targets
What the U.S.-led coalition is doing currently to achieve President Barack Obama's stated objective to "degrade and ultimately defeat" ISIS is not working. The original plan to use American and allied air power to support Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga troops in Iraq, and a cadre of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels in Syria has failed.
How can the U.S. and allies turn things around?
First, they must recognize that ISIS is no longer confined to operations in Iraq and Syria. It has become a regional -- and, after the attacks in Paris -- international threat.
But while we need to take the fight to ISIS wherever they are -- the American airstrike in Libya that killed the local ISIS leader is a start -- the main effort must focus on ISIS's key facilities in Iraq and Syria, including the self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.
Thus far, the U.S.-led coalition air campaign has been anemic at best -- many of the armed sorties return to base with unexpended ordnance. Coalition pilots are hamstrung by over-restrictive rules of engagement and an unrealistic belief in Washington that air strikes can be conducted with nearly zero collateral damage.
An effective air campaign requires some U.S. troops on the ground, American eyes on targets. The targets presented by ISIS are difficult to detect, isolate and validate inside of the cumbersome U.S. decision cycle -- the time required for a pilot to receive authorization to strike a target.
I have recommended that we use American troops on the ground -- a few special operators (Army or Air Force) embedded with our Arab or Kurdish allies -- to control the airstrikes. I call this the "Afghan model" -- similar in concept to using U.S. special operations personnel embedded with Afghan Northern Alliance fighters to effectively target al Qaeda and Taliban formations, facilities and fighters. It worked there, it could work in Iraq and Syria.
If we are committed to conducting an air campaign, we need to do it right. We spent years perfecting the tools and tactics to employ precision-guided munitions effectively from the sky -- let's use the whole team: pilots in the air and combat controllers on the ground. Then let them do their jobs without micromanagement from Washington.
Lt. Col. Rick Francona is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer and Middle East specialist who served in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. He is currently a CNN military analyst.