U.S. strikes in Syria against Islamic State would be hindered by intelligence gaps

A senior U.S. intelligence official said that “it would probably take some number of months to really build up the necessary intelligence architecture” to expand the U.S. air campaign underway in Iraq against Islamic State positions in Syria. “This is not going to end anytime soon.”

The Obama administration has counted on Predator and Reaper aircraft to carry out hundreds of strikes against al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen, countries where it has at least tacit permission to fly armed drones. The planes conduct near-constant surveillance over extensive territory in both countries and often spend days tracking targets before a missile launch.

But the use of drones is far riskier in Syria, where the forces of President Bashar al-Assad guard the country’s airspace with missile batteries and fighter aircraft. The Islamic State seeks to overthrow Assad, and strikes against the group would be in his interest. But allowing American drones to reach cities such as Raqqah — an Islamic State stronghold — would also probably be seen by Assad as a threat, in part because such aircraft could gather valuable intelligence on his forces.