- The likelihood of "target creep" in which air strikes expand to an ever-growing list of target types;
- The likelihood of "force evolution," in which new types of assets are brought into theater to accelerate an apparently slow-moving campaign;
- The inevitability of civilian casualties;
- The new information environment created by observers on the ground equipped with smart phones, camera, and satellite imagery; and
- The need for a coherent post-conflict reconstruction plan focused on providing immediate civilian services – "shoes on the ground" to accompany boots on the ground.
The presence of camera-enabled smart phones means any action – from an airstrike to a simple equipment move – not only can, but almost certainly will, be filmed and posted online in near real time, probably with its exact GPS coordinates. . . .Likewise things like the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, or Russian bombing of US-allied rebels, also become immediately known to the world. I suppose spies these days spend more of their time searching Instagram than bribing agents or burglarizing secure buildings.
Soldiers who have their own smart phones can compromise operational security and become a potential diplomatic liability by posting indiscreet pictures of themselves online. Indeed, one of the first indications Russia was planning action in Syria was a set of social media posts from members of the 810th Marine Division showing them traveling and posing in Syria in early September 2015. The risk to security becomes particularly acute when the phone camera in question is GPS-enabled. The coordinates are then embedded in the photo file, allowing viewers to identify where the photo was taken almost to the square yard.
Even if troops on the ground can be persuaded not to post selfies – in itself a challenge – anyone else with a camera and internet access can quickly betray their presence. For example, the arrival in Libya of a team of twenty US commandos, as part of the campaign against ISIL, was immediately revealed when the Libyan Air Force posted pictures of them on its Facebook page.
I am not sure that this has yet made much difference in terms of whether people are bombed or not, but it certainly bears thinking that operational military security will be very hard to achieve in the future.