Monday, January 16, 2012

Afghan Air War Hits 3-Year Low

Afghan Air War Hits 3-Year Low:

Peace talks with the Taliban are just getting started. But one major component of the Afghanistan conflict — the air war — is rapidly winding down on its own.

In December, NATO planes flew 133 missions in which they fired off their weapons. That’s the lowest monthly total in three years, and more than a 50% drop from last December’s tally. And the air war shows no sign of picking up in 2012. In the first week of the year, the coalition launched just 18 strike sorties.

Afghan officials — especially president Hamid Karzai — have been calling for years for NATO to cut back on its bombing runs, arguing that errant attacks only turn the population against the government. The alliance’s generals didn’t always heed his wishes. From August to December of 2010, for example, then-Afghan War commander Gen. David Petraeus oversaw 3,336 air attack missions. In contrast, Gen. John Allen, who took the reins of the war effort in the middle of last July, launched 2,074 such sorties during the last five months of 2011.

That’s partially because Afghanistan has become a less dangerous place for coalition forces. NATO troops aren’t getting into as many firefights — so there’s less need to call in air support. Three hundred NATO troops lost their lives from August to December of 2010, compared to 231 during the same stretch of 2011. The decline in casualties tracks roughly to the decrease in air strikes, in other words.

The numbers also speak to the changing character of the air campaign. Today, there are more NATO aircraft than ever above Afghanistan. But they do different things than the planes of the past.

Our culture is a fangs-out, kill-kill-kill culture,” F/A-18 pilot Cmdr. Layne McDowell tells the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers. “Now I prefer not dropping — if I can accomplish the mission other ways.” During his current tour, McDowell and his fellow Super Hornet pilots aboard the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis have flown 953 missions in support of ground troops. The aircraft have only attacked 17 times.

In contrast, surveillance missions have quadrupled in the last two years; NATO is now flying about 85 spy sorties every day over Afghanistan. Airdrops of food, water, ammunition, fuel and other supplies are up 25 percent, to nearly 76 million pounds — even as the number of bomb drops comes down.

Photo, illo: USAF

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...