Bombing ourselves in the foot
Posted by Max Bergmann
Last week I wrote about how Blackwater and aggressive private security firms were undermining Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy - an argument recently supported by a State Department panel reviewing its use of contractors. The basic premise was that violent action that causes civilian deaths is bad, really bad, especially when you are attempting to uproot an insurgency.
So news that the U.S. military has increased airstrikes four fold this year should raise some serious questions about what Petraeus is doing in Iraq. From USA Today,
Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics...
However, increased use of air power raises the chances of killing innocent civilians, said Mark Clodfelter, a professor at the National War College. Winning over the population is key to defeating insurgents.
"You don't want bombing to be a recruiting method for the insurgents," Clodfelter said.
As Juan Cole notes "You can't drop a bomb on an urban apartment building without killing lots of people, not only inside the building but also all around it." Airstrikes, while in some cases may be necessary against a concentration of enemy forces, but stories like this clearly undermine any efforts to win back "hearts and minds":
Iraqis voiced outrage Friday over a U.S. military airstrike that killed an estimated 15 civilians -- nine children and six women, one of the highest reported civilian death tolls from an American bombing in months.
All this talk about a new counter-insurgency strategy - adopting less kinetic approaches, emphasizing the security of Iraqis, the need for U.S. Soldiers to take more risk and operate under stricter rules of engagement, etc., etc. - seems really hollow if at the same time, we are lobbing four times as many bombs from the air then we were before.
A strategy needs to be coherent. And Petraeus' clearly isn't.