Report: Huge jump in allied bombing in Afghanistan
As the Bush administration and its NATO allies struggle to contain the worst violence in Afghanistan since 2001, a U.S. Institute for Peace report suggests that a key reason for the Taliban comeback is popular anger over civilian casualties caused by a staggering surge in the foreign forces' use of air power.
Consider the numbers: the amount of munitions dropped or fired by U.S. and other NATO aircraft in Afghanistan has climbed from an average of 5,000 pounds per month in 2005 to some 80,000 pounds the following year to an average of 168,000 pounds in December 2007, according to the report entitled "Killing Friends, Making Enemies."
The increased use of air power has contributed to large numbers of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and allied forces, although the United Nations says the numbers of civilians killed in insurgent attacks are much higher.
Still, the report warns that reducing the numbers of civilians wounded and killed in U.S. and NATO combat operations is "critical" to turning back the resurgence of the Taliban and allied groups.
"Reducing civilian casualties is a moral and strategic issue," says the report. "The overall effectiveness of air strikes in a counter-insurgency environment is debatable, as large numbers of civilian deaths undermine battlefield success."
"These civilian casualties have led to the erosion of civilian support for the counter-insurgency," it continued.
The report says the main reason for the massive increase in the use of air power is a shortage of U.S. and NATO combat troops, something that President Bush, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain, all agree must be addressed.
Troop levels in Afghanistan have been insufficient given the geographic and demographic scope of the challenge, resulting in increased reliance on air power as a substitute for ground forces," says the report.