The ability to gauge the Islamic State’s strength and movements as well as the casualties the jihadist group has incurred has been hampered by a gap in CIA intelligence, reports the Los Angeles Times.
According to the LATimes, “The intelligence gap reflects far broader problems for the expanding U.S.-led air war against the heavily armed Islamic State fighters and others considered terrorists who have captured large parts of Syria and Iraq.”
The article cites U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing intelligence matters linked to the ongoing military efforts against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“It’s a black hole,” a U.S. official told the Los Angeles newspaper in describing the difficulty of tracking ISIS and assessing their casualties on the battlefield where U.S. personnel is not allowed.
The LATimes notes that almost two months have passed since the U.S. launched missiles against the Khorasan Group during the first wave of airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 23.
Yet, U.S. spy agencies have not been able to verify whether or not the group’s leader was killed.
In highlighting another example of an intelligence lapse, the LATimes notes that U.S. intelligence analysts have struggled to track the movements of the estimated dozen Americans believed to have joined jihadist groups, including ISIS, in Iraq and Syria.
The analysts have not been able to identify what role the Americans are playing within the militant groups.
Moreover, U.S. intelligence officials have been unable to confirm the death of high-ranking ISIS militants who have been specifically targeted by the U.S airstrikes, the LATimes reports. Namely, French national and Islam covert David Drugeon who is believed to be a highly-skilled explosives expert working with the Khorasan Group.
The article also mentions ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was reportedly killed or seriously injured by U.S. air power, something that intelligence analysts have been unable to confirm.
Obama repeatedly stressed that there will be no ground combat role for American troops in the war against ISIS.
The absence of intelligence gathering capabilities on the ground has made it difficult for the U.S military to estimate the manpower behind the jihadist organization, according to Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command. He is in charge of the mission to destroy and degrade ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“I know that number has bounced around a bit,” said the commander in estimating earlier this month that ISIS has between 9,000 and 17,000 “core” fighters, The Daily Beast reports. “Without having human intelligence on the ground to confirm or deny, it’s very difficult,” he explained.