Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Airstrikes in Afghanistan increase 31%"

From USA Today:
Air missions to back U.S. troops on the ground have increased by 31% in Afghanistan this year, as fighting in the country spreads.

The growing reliance on air power raises the risk of injuring civilians and their property and reflects a shortage of ground forces needed to protect civilians and root out insurgents, ground commanders and military experts say.

"If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on" airstrikes, said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Ground commanders in Afghanistan have asked for an additional three combat brigades and an array of support forces, which could amount to about 20,000 more troops.

The air missions, called close air support, are airstrikes requested by ground forces engaged with the enemy.

Insurgents pounce on reports of civilian casualties, often exaggerating or fictionalizing the number of injured or killed in an effort to turn public opinion against the coalition, officials say.

"Insurgent propaganda is specifically targeting air power because of its effectiveness," said Col. Albert Elton, a planner at the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Communications intercepts have overheard insurgents discussing the hyping of casualty reports, Tucker said.

An insurgent commander in August told colleagues that an allied airstrike had killed seven people, according to an intercepted conversation. "Make sure you tell the reporters it was at least 70," the commander ordered, Tucker said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has emphasized the need to immediately compensate any victims of coalition strikes and quickly investigate the circumstances.

Airstrikes have grown more precise, but they still pose a risk of civilian casualties and property damage.

"Close air support is a last resort," Tucker said in a telephone interview from Afghanistan.

Allied aircraft have flown 13,802 such missions through September, up from 10,538 for the same period last year, according to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, which coordinates the air wars over Iraq and Afghanistan.
Such missions are requested by ground forces generally to target enemy positions. However, some strikes are canceled and pilots return to base without using munitions.

Aircraft dropped about 2,983 bombs this year, up from 2,764 during the same period last year.

"Air power is far more precise than it use to be, but is still not as precise as a soldier on the ground," said John Nagl, a retired Army officer and counterinsurgency expert.

Getting additional ground forces to Afghanistan will take time. The Pentagon has said the ability to move reinforcements to Afghanistan will depend on how fast forces can leave Iraq, where security is improving.

There are about 60,000 allied forces in Afghanistan, including 32,000 Americans. That's far fewer than the 150,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, a smaller country in size and population.

Air power will remain important in Afghanistan regardless of the number of ground troops there, mostly because of the country's steep, rugged terrain. By contrast, most fighting in Iraq was in large cities where airstrikes are difficult.

In Afghanistan, ground forces operate in small units, often outside the range of artillery and other firepower. Aircraft can deliver firepower quickly when coalition forces come under attack.

"I guarantee guys on the ground are appreciative of having that at their disposal," said Sam Brennan, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"When you're spread kind of thin, sometimes the cavalry has wings," Tucker said.
It's the urgent, non-preplanned missions that cause the vast majority of the civilian casualties; without more troops in theatre they are, unfortunately essential. But I wonder if their use in support of US forces is less restricted than those for ISAF missions as a whole. And the Taliban have very dirty hands--from the Globe and Mail:
Taliban spurred air strike on civilians, official says

Meanwhile, this should help things in Afstan:
Gen. David H. Petraeus has decided to reduce the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 15 to 14 about six weeks earlier than planned, as a result of dramatically lower violence there, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

"The hope is they can come home before Christmas," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said of the decision.

The plan accelerates the withdrawal from Iraq of a 101st Airborne Division brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 troops that will not be replaced. Another brigade from the 10th Mountain Division that was scheduled to go to Iraq in its place will instead deploy to Afghanistan, as announced earlier this fall.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has stated that further increases in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan -- where American commanders say they need three more brigades and thousands of support forces to combat a growing insurgency -- will be contingent upon further withdrawals from Iraq next year.

Underpinning the decision to speed the brigade's return is a continuing drop in attacks and troop casualties in Iraq, officials said. October had fewer than 1,000 "security incidents" nationwide in Iraq, the lowest monthly number since January 2004, Morrell said...
And here's an odd sign of progress in Afstan (via Moby Media Updates):
Customs seize right-hand drive cars
Traders complain vehicles have been impounded for more than a year


Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

And what is more accurate than airstrikes and artillery, but still packs a bigger punch than the infantry can carry with them?

Tanks. Those scaaaaary tanks, people.

2:26 p.m., November 06, 2008  

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