Support VFL on Social Media
Follow by Email
Recommendation: Terminate Unilateral CIA Targeted Killings and Develop Streamlined Approval Process for Airstrikes against Enemies of the United States of America


Approval and Execution of Kinetic Air-to-Ground Engagements


This policy paper discusses the increase in targeted killings by the CIA and the overly restrictive targeting and engagement approval processes of the DOD. Incidents like the siege in Marjah that resulted in the death of SSG Matthew McClintock illustrate how overly restrictive guidance can deprive our military personnel on the ground of decisive support that could directly affect both casualties and mission success. As the CIA’s armed UAS program has grown, so have issues de-conflicting assets and conducting oversight. See the Executive Summary below, and click on the document to view or download the PDF for free.


Executive Summary

This document provides an analysis of the status quo and a policy recommendation to address two problems: the expanding role of the CIA in targeted killings with air-to-ground engagements from aircraft and the inadequate engagement approval process for kinetic air-to-ground engagements within the DOD. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the CIA began to increase its capability to conduct targeted killings by developing its own fleet of lethal UAS. Since 2001, the CIA has conducted over 500 airstrikes in seven different countries.[1] This expansion of responsibility has undermined the purpose of the DOD, created unhealthy competition between agencies, increased risk to service members, and wasted man-hours and funding. An order from the Commander-in-Chief to relinquish responsibility of all air-to-ground engagements to the DOD is the most appropriate solution.

The second issue, the air-to-ground engagement approval process within the DOD for CAS has become more complicated since the beginning of the GWOT due to a myriad of factors including but not limited to innumerable, conflicting procedural guidance documents. These problems have led to a decrease in the percentage of successful sorties against hostile targets and placed US personnel in unnecessary danger with the failure to remove enemy forces from the battlefield.[2] Most recently, the air campaign against ISIL has been publicly perceived as grossly ineffective.[3] The solution is over-arching, comprehensive procedural guidance for all branches of the military which empowers commanders at the lowest level to make the decision to engage, and provides members of the controlling dyad or triad with tools they need to discern whether or not a target is appropriate. A simple solution to solve both of these problems is the issuance of an executive order by the President which addresses both.

[1] Zenko, Micah. “America Just Launched Its 500th Drone Strike”. Council on Foreign Relations. 2014

[2] Jacobson, Louis. “John McCain says 75% of airstrike missions against ISIS return without firing a weapon.” Tampa Bay Times. 2015. Accessed June 26, 2015.

[3] Naylor, Sean. “Airstrikes Killing Thousands of Islamic State Fighters, but It Just Recruits More”. Foreign Policy. 2015. Accessed June 25, 2015.


An excerpt from the text…

This was evidenced by the incident in Marjah, Afghanistan on January 5, 2016 when U.S. SOF and their host nation partners were pinned down in a battle, isolated and unable to maneuver. Despite friendly casualties and multiple requests for air support, higher command denied air-to-ground engagements that would have decisively ended the siege. The supporting AC-130 was relegated to firing into an open field clear of collateral damage concerns rather than upon the enemy forces.[1] The reason for this denial was a risk of collateral damage, which refers not to human casualties but instead the likelihood of damage to man-made structures.




The following two tabs change content below.
Chris Fox is a Project Coordinator at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, where he recently graduated with an MPA. Prior to that, he was a research fellow at the DHS Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), where his focus was on homegrown violent extremism. He also holds a BA in Psychology and an AAS in Information Systems Management. Chris served for seven years as a TACP, is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues to serve as a JTAC Instructor in the Texas Air National Guard.