American military pilots charged with carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria are complaining that stringent rules of engagement are interfering with their mission, Fox News reports.
Unnamed sources, reportedly close to the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS, told Fox News that on average, strike missions take under an hour, from when the pilot requests authorization to strike an ISIS target to the time the ordnance actually leaves the aircraft’s wing.
Some pilots, Fox News notes, blame a bureaucracy that hinders their ability to make decisions on the fly.
“There were times I had groups of ISIS fighters in my sights, but couldn’t get clearance to engage,” a Navy F-18 pilot participating in the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS frustratedly told Fox News.
“They probably killed innocent people and spread evil because of my inability to kill them. It was frustrating,” added the unnamed pilot.
The U.S. Air Force’s Central Command denied that it takes about an hour on average to carry out an airstrike.
“We refute the idea that close air support strikes take ‘an hour on average’. Depending on the how complex the target environment is, a strike could take place in less than 10 minutes or it could take much longer,” a spokesman for the Air Force’s Central Command told Fox News.
Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who served as the director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Afghanistan in 2001, echoed the unnamed sources, saying the process for launching airstrikes is slow.
Pilots are being “micromanaged,” added Gen. Deptula, who led air campaigns over Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You’re talking about hours in some cases, which by that time the particular tactical target left the area and or the aircraft has run out of fuel. These are excessive procedures that are handing our adversary an advantage,” said the retired lieutenant general.
Deptula told Fox News that President Obama’s White House is behind the heavy-handed rules of engagement that end up tying the hands of U.S. military pilots.
“The ultimate guidance rests in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he declared. “We have been applying air power like a rain shower or a drizzle — for it to be effective, it needs to be applied like a thunderstorm.”
In an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pointed out that 75 percent of pilots in Iraq and Syria are returning to base without having fired a weapon or dropped any ordnance.
“It’s because we don’t have somebody on the ground who can identify a… moving target,” said McCain, the chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need to have forward air controllers. We need to have special forces.”
ISIS continues to capture territory in Iraq and Syria despite U.S.-led airstrikes, which began in Iraq in August 2014 and were extended to Syria the following month.