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July 29, 2008

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.


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Philip Henika

The US kills innocent Afghan civilians with increased air power and now, we expect them to welcome more US troops as what - "liberators"? Gates has suggested, correct me if I am wrong, a combined strategy where the US assumes roles as trainers of a country's military and law enforcement and still proceeds with ops and intel in cooperation with the country's intel service. Added to this complex formula is the application of "soft power" which I interpret as peacebuilding initiative. Basically, Afghan forces would be used for security and, once localities are secure, then peacebuilding would arrive. Such a model is play in the Philippines. Can it work in Afghanistan? I doubt that it will be tested with the current and future Administrations bent on the boots-on -the-ground military option with no plan for post-surge Afghanistan.

Persona non grata

"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." —George W. Bush Washington, D.C. June 18, 2002

Orwell would be jealous.

William Ockham

I truly don't understand this post. The first sentence starts:

As the Bush administration and its NATO allies struggle to contain the worst violence in Afghanistan since 2001 ...

But the information in the report suggests that the U.S. and its NATO allies initiated the escalation in violence with a very substantial increase in aerial bombardment. I have no way of knowing which is the chicken and which is the egg here, but don't you have a responsibility to substantiate your opening sentence? At the very least, shouldn't there be a claim by a U.S. leader that our strategy is to reduce violence? The evidence presented in your article that our strategy involves increasing the violence.

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

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