Wednesday :: Mar 15, 2006

Americans Increase Airstrikes


by Mary

Tom Lassiter, Knight Ridder's Baghdad correspondent, reports that the United States military has stepped up the use of air strikes in Iraq. Lassiter knows the scene as he has been reporting from some of the hottest locations in Iraq, including just last month from the battle zone of Samarra.

His latest report is about how the number of air strikes are up sharply from this time last year. And not surprisingly, there are some unintended consequences due to the move to this tactic.

This change in American tactics was first reported last November by Seymour Hersh. As he said, he'd been talking with people who told him that the Bush strategy was to move to air strikes so that they could start to drawdown the soldiers in Iraq.

There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

As Lassiter reports, the reliance of air strikes has already resulted in some significant downsides -- many which were mentioned as potential problems by Hersh's informants. Some Iraqis that have had families killed by the bombing raids are angry and now vow revenge.

There are risks to a strategy that relies more on aerial bombings than ground combat patrols. In the town of Samarra, for example, insurgents last month were able to spend several hours rigging explosives in the dome of a Shiite shrine that they later destroyed, in part because American troops patrolled less. The shrine's destruction triggered a week of sectarian violence that killed hundreds. U.S. soldiers interviewed in Samarra three weeks earlier said patrols in the city had been scaled back because the number of troops had been reduced by two-thirds.

Airstrikes also risk civilian casualties, driving a wedge between American forces and Iraqis, Iraqis say.

...A tribal sheik who lives on the outskirts of the troubled Anbar town of Ramadi, who asked that he be identified as Abu Tahseen instead of by his full name out of fear of possible retribution, said that the strikes create more insurgents than they kill because of the region's tribal dictates of revenge.

"They (the Americans) think: `As long as there are resistance fighters operating in this spot, we will wipe it out entirely,'" Abu Tahseen said, using the term for insurgents favored by Iraqis sympathetic to their cause. "As you know, our nature is a tribal one, and so if one from us is killed, we kill three or four in return."

As Lassiter noted, no one is actually giving information about number of sorties run or number of bombs dropped. Perhaps that's because the last time America was involved in a long drawn out war, the strategy was to use air strikes to minimize the number of combatant deaths?

More than 6.3 million tons of bombs were dropped between 1964 - 1973 in Indochina. About 2,400 planes were lost in this effort, more than 1,800 to enemy action (roughly 2,000 pilots and rewman.)

U.S. bombings with planes such as the B-52 were about four times greater than the combined U.S.-British bombing of Germany during World War II. American air strikes destroyed much of North Vietnam's industrial and transportation systems.

Since we're not tracking the number of flights or bombs, we'll never know when we've over taken that last benchmark. So when will we finally realize that air strikes will not win the war for us or the Iraqi people?

Mary :: 6:30 AM :: Comments (44) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!