Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Obama's Air Raid

Democratic Presidential candidate (and amateur airpower strategist) Barack Obama

Based on his recent comments about "invading" Pakistan and taking our nuclear option off the table, Illinois Senator (and Presidential hopeful) Barack Obama has demonstrated--beyond any shadow of a doubt--that he's unprepared to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

Yet, Mr. Obama persists in demonstrating his incompetence in military and security affairs. Just yesterday, Senator Obama observed that "We've got to get the job done [in Afghanistan]. And that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there."

The Senator's remarks drew instant criticism from a spokesman for GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, although (predictably) Mr. Obama's Democratic rivals remained silent. We're guessing that the other Democrats harbor similar thoughts, or they're just content to watch Obama slowly destroy his own candidacy.

From a military perspective, there are clear problems with Senator Obama's "analysis." First and foremost, the U.S. military does not engage in the indiscriminate bombing of villages in Afghanistan--or anywhere else. If Mr. Obama had even a rudimentary knowledge of air operations, he would understand that bombing missions generally fall under two categories, interdiction and close air support.

As the name implies, interdiction raids are aimed at preventing the enemy from achieving specific military goals. While these strikes are typically planned at least a day in advance, they are based on firm intelligence indicators. In other words, if an Afghan village is a target, it's only because the Taliban are conducting operations there, and the air strike will be limited to those military elements, with strict ROE on target identification and weapons employment.

However, most of our air operations in Afghanistan are classified as close air support (CAS) , designed to help our troops on the ground. CAS missions are usually classified as pre-planned or immediate. Pre-planned sorties allocate specific assets to certain ground units or a geographical area, at a pre-determined time. Immediate CAS missions are flown in support of troops in contact. In both cases, the attacking aircraft are, invariably, under the control of a ground observer, who identifies the enemy, briefs the pilots and literally "talks" them onto the target. But then again, we rather doubt that Senator Obama is familiar with a "nine-line" briefing.

And, beyond the lamentable fact that innocent civilians are often killed in war, there may be another reason that Afghan villagers are falling victim to NATO bombs. As a Reuters correspondent noted in a report filed earlier this year, the Taliban have a long history of using human shields in their operations, hiding among civilians to conceal their activities and discourage allied attacks. During fighting around the Kajaki Dam in February, Taliban fighters even used children to shield their retreat.

In another February battle, NATO troops witnessed the Taliban removing the bodies of dead and wounded fighters after an air strike, leaving behind the remains of villagers, who may have been used as human shields. That tactic allows the Taliban to claim that the U.S. and its allies are "targeting" civilians, while covering up their actions that prompted the air strike.

Fortunately, that little ploy isn't having much of an impact on the battlefield. The air campaign in Afghanistan has ramped up in recent months, and it's a major reason that the Taliban's "spring offensive" never got off the ground. However, exaggerated Taliban claims of civilian casualties from bombing raids produce a different effect in Washington--and on the campaign trail--where a presidential wannabe is again declaring despair and defeat.

You'll note that no one is asking Senator Obama about his "plan" for Afghanistan, which (like most of his defense pronouncements) seems painfully inept. If his comments are any indication, the Obama strategy for Afghanistan would be based heavily on reconstruction programs. That's fine, but rebuilding a country is predicated on a security environment that allows those efforts to proceed. Remember that battle around Kajaki Dam? It was aimed at eliminating the local Taliban presence, so that reconstruction of the dam's power plant and transmission lines can continue.

And getting rid of the Taliban means killing them.

Using airplanes.

Dropping bombs.

Surely the Senator from Illinois can grasp those fundamental concepts. But then again, it's easy to over-estimate Barack Obama.
ADDENDUM: Powerline reports that the AP rushed to Obama's defense last night, claiming in a "fact check" article that "western forces have been killing Afghan civilians at a faster rate than insurgents." That analysis is based on a rather dubious AP count, and even the wire service acknowledges that "tracking civilian deaths is a difficult task because they often occur in remote and dangerous areas that are difficult to reach and verify." We might add that some of those reports come from tribal "elders" who are Taliban sympathizers, or falsely claim civilian casualties, to prevent terrorist reprisals against their villages.


Gandalwaven said...


While everything you say above is true nonetheless other troops on the ground particularly in the areas you are citing have raised concerns about the use of air power and the number of civilian casualties caused by American air attacks.

While I share similar feelings about the accuracy of AP I think you could do better by also providing a more balanced posting particularly given you are ex-intelligence. I find it hard to believe you were not aware of the following below from the NY Times

SANGIN, Afghanistan — A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

Chris Allan

Otter said...

Chris Allan~ Wouldn't it have been great if we could have just left cities like Dunkirk or Hiroshima standing in WW II? That would have won over quite a few to our side, would it not?


Unknown said...

Chris--That Brit may wish the snake eaters were back in his AOR in a matter of weeks. If reporting from Waziristan is correct, Al Qaida is leaving its recently-established camps--en masse--and heading for southern Afghanistan. "Hearts and minds" won't work with the hard-core jihadists.

SwampWoman said...

I know that when I'm under attack, I'll call for the NY Times to come editorialize at my attackers and to tell me that I should use kinder, gentler methods to avoid casualties on the other side even if it radically ups the chance that I'll be bleeding out shortly.

Gandalwaven said...

I think you miss my point.

I am not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of bombing in situations that involve civilians. With a son completing officer training here in Australia I hope that American ordinance will always be there for him.

This has more do with my trust in you as a blogger. Up to this point as a regular reader of your blog I have faith in your capacity to provide good and insightful analysis of situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other issues.

When you simplify a story for a quick point against some politician from another party without your usual consideration of a range of information then I am disappointed.

As much as the British officer may appreciate extra firepower in a difficult situation the decision to bomb is a complex nuanced difficult decision that must take into account a cost benefit analysis for short and long term factors. The simple fact that far more bombs are dropped in Afghanistan than Iraq is simple testimony to this.

Chris Allan

Paul Allen said...
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