DOD: ‘It’s Never Been More Difficult to Tell Friend From Foe’ in Iraq

By Meredith Dake
Posted June 5, 2015 at 10:15pm
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When Combined Forces Air Component Commander Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III was asked about an email circulating about saying pilots were frustrated at the approval process for engagement of terrorist forces in Iraq during a press briefing Friday, he said, “I expect guys to feel that way.” Hesterman went on to clarify the approval process for engaging hostiles in Iraq for pilots and highlighted that the situation on the ground is the most complicated he has seen in his history with the Armed Forces. “” Hesterman said. He used the word reports that the United States was observing large numbers of terrorists and ” Read the transcript, via CQ.com: QUESTION: Hey, General, it’s Tom Bowman with NPR. Some of the pilots flying under your command are complaining that they’re being micro-managed, that they’re not — they have to take too much time to get approval for a target. There’s one e-mail making the rounds, a pilot who says, “In my 10-plus years, I’ve never been more frustrated. We let targets go because we have to wait so long for approval.” And then, General Katullah (ph), who you know, retired General Katullah (ph), complained that this air campaign is basically “drizzle, when it should be thunder and lightning.” And these guys are Air Force professionals. What are they seeing that you’re not seeing? HESTERMAN: Well, first of all, you know, I’m a big fan of air power advocates. And I appreciate their confidence and I think it’s well-placed. I will also tell you, as I stated, that they’re not fighting the war that we’re fighting right now, and I’m a little bit closer to the facts on this one. As far as the guys that are a little bit (inaudible), yeah, absolutely. I’ll tell you, some of his friends talked to him about, and they’re not certain he feels that way now. HESTERMAN: But I expect guys to feel that way. When I was a captain (inaudible) that, too. But let me clear up some misconceptions on the approval process. If Daesh is firing at coalition aircraft or friendly forces and we see it, they dive very quickly. And the pilot or operator doesn’t need to ask permission from anybody. We call that self-defense. You know, for a planned strike, the pilot has permission before he takes off. And only in rare circumstances, when something has changed in the target area, might the pilot delay or seek some sort of clarification. So, you know, anecdotally it might be a bus pulls up, you know, if a bunch of noncombatants get off of it, that guy probably is going to save that target for the next night. If all those guys are wearing body armor and carrying weapons, he might not wait very long before he strikes that target. So, the kind of targeting that people are talking about, something that we’re really good at and haven’t done a whole heck of a lot of until this conflict, is dynamic targeting. Now, let me be real clear about this. The vast majorities are well away from friendly troops in contact. And we use a multitude of sources to initially ID the enemy and communicate what we see. Then JTACS in operations centers do a collateral damage estimate and then we de-conflict friendlies. And when that’s done, a senior officer clears the sortie. You know, the average time for those strikes, by the way, is measured in minutes, not hours or even halves of hours. Now, in rare cases, it takes longer because sometimes we ID the enemy and they’re standing next to a mosque or a school or a residential area. And it is not, you know, there have been cases where a pilot was there for a couple of hours waiting for those guys to move away; ran out of crew duty day, and had to go home. And no doubt, that guy is frustrated. But most of the time, the guy that shows up as he’s leaving kills that enemy when they move away from the target area, and he’s not frustrated at all, and the enemy is just as dead. And that’s usually what happens. So the thought that we’re observing large numbers of Daesh terrorists and not killing them anywhere is fiction. And the relatively few targets we have not prosecuted in total wouldn’t have