Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Air War

More good news from the front lines: "War-zone airstrikes up fivefold this year," reports USA Today, in an article reprinted by its sister Gannett publication, Air Force Times.

We put that in the "good news" category because it's another indicator of how the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has turned in recent months. On the ground in Iraq, the troop surge has rooted hundreds of terrorists from long-established safe havens, creating more opportunities for fighters and bombers to eliminate them.

In Afghanistan, air power has been instrumental in smashing Al Qaida and Taliban formations before they can reach the battlefield. A year ago, many analysts warned of a powerful "spring offensive," with enemy fighters actually over-running a NATO base. But the terrorist campaign never materialized, in part because allied airpower killed scores of Taliban and Al Qaida militants before they could attack coalition positions. Indeed, the recent shift toward more suicide and IED attacks in Afghanistan is an indirect testament to the effectiveness of airpower, and the enemy's admission that past tactics are no match for coalition firepower.

The improved accuracy of U.S. weapons is another reason for the increase in airstrikes, according to USA Today. JDAM kits and the small diameter bomb allow for precise targeting of terrorist targets, with minimal risk of collateral damage. While there have been some complaints about airstrikes killing civilians--most notably in Afghanistan--many of those casualties resulted from terrorists deliberately taking refuge in civilian homes.

Contrary to Barrack Obama's assertion, we are not "air-raiding" villages in Iraq or Afghanistan. And, the results speak for themselves. Complaints about collateral damage remain low, despite the upswing in close air support (CAS) and battlefield air interdiction (BAI) missions flown by U.S. fighters. Meanwhile, the number of enemy attacks in Iraq has dropped by more than 50% and American casualties have decreased significantly. While much of that credit (rightfully) belongs to the the troops on the ground, every successful air mission means there are fewer terrorists to build bombs, plant IEDs, launch suicide attacks, or engage our soldiers and Marines.

If there's one fault with the USA Today article, it's the omission of this very important detail: the "precise targeting" described by writer Jim Michaels depends on precision intelligence. One important reason behind the increase in bombing missions is the receipt of better information on terrorist whereabouts and their activities. That, in turn, allows us to do a better job of putting bombs on target, for maximum effect.

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