Advisers urge military to rely less on drones
Military operations in Afghanistan rely too much on intelligence gathered by unmanned drones, often exclude important publicly available data and do not focus enough on the recruitment of human agents, a Pentagon report says.
The report by the Defense Science Board, a panel that advises the Pentagon, says that the defense budget does not properly direct funding for open-source intelligence collection, information available to the public and gathered from a wide variety of sources, including academic papers and newspapers.
“Overall, these problems tend to exclude valuable sources of social and behavioral science data, including human geography,” according to the report.
It also says analysts often are overwhelmed by the volume of data collected by ball-shaped sensors outfitted on the bottom of military aircraft and from hightech camera and radar pods placed on blimps and sometimes even telephone poles. While the technology has helped pinpoint and kill enemy combatants and to detect cellphone conversations on the battlefield, its created a “a crisis in processing, exploitation, and dissemination” of the infor- mation.
Drone warfare has taken center stage in recent counterterrorism operations but is not always considered the best approach for counterinsurgency, which often requires the military to earn the trust of local populations for turning people against insurgents.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week publicly complained about the U.S. reliance on drone warfare after a recent bombing that he said mistakenly killed civilians in a strike targeting Taliban insurgents.
From an intelligence perspective, the report recommends that the Pentagon devote more resources to developing expertise in anthropology, sociology and what is called human-terrain mapping in order to understand and predict insurgencies. It also says the military and intelligence agencies need to provide better training in advanced analysis earlier in analysts’ careers.
“The level of analysis is needed at the very front end of any future conflict, not several years down the road,” the report says.
Another key recommendation calls for the Pentagon to invest more resources in predicting the locations of insurgencies for use in counterinsurgency warfare, or COIN in military parlance.
A chart in the report identi- fied “possible COIN challenges” in 24 countries and territories where U.S. forces may intervene in future counterinsurgency warfare.
They are: Pakistan, Mexico, Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Congo, Ethiopia, Gaza/West Bank, Eritrea, Guatemala, Colombia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kurdistan, Tunisia and Lebanon.
“Whether the United States should engage in any particular counterinsurgency is a matter of political choice, but that it will engage in such conflicts during the decades to come is a near certainty,” the report says, quoting the U.S. military’s 2009 guide to counterinsurgency.
The report states, for example, that insurgency warfare can be caused by a loss of state power over territory inside a state or in a border region. “Such areas could become sanctuaries from which to launch attacks on the U.S. homeland, recruit personnel, and finance, train, and supply operations,” it says.
The board’s report, released last week, said that interviews with senior military officials on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for counterinsurgency “turned frequently to the subject of technical collection systems while excluding other collection sources” such as opensource intelligence, human intelligence and processing, exploitation and dissemination issues.
It was prompted in part by a December 2009 paper that criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for their lack of understanding of Afghanistan. That paper was written by Army Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, chief military intelligence officer at the time for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlation between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers, whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers, U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge [. . . ] to wage a successful counterinsurgency,” Gen. Flynn said.
The problem of the deluge of data was emphasized last fall at a national convention on geospatial intelligence by Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told the convention audience of military and intelligence contractors that data from a single sensor ball on a predator drone required 19 analysts to process. As more sophisticated “dense data” drones came online, that number will increase nearly tenfold, he said.
The report also indicates that the military is moving away from its strategic posture of preparing to fight two land wars at once in different regions of the globe. Instead, the Pentagon is orienting its forces toward fighting lowlevel irregular warfare against insurgencies.
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