Friday, August 10, 2007

Air strikes in Afghanistan: counter-productive, but now in smaller payloads!

So last week, NATO made a bit of news by saying "yes, we're going to continue the incredibly counter-productive strategy of substituting land forces with airpower, but we're going to start using smaller bombs."

War as a Monty Python sketch, I swear.

This has real consequences -- the American reliance on airpower has been so disastrous that the British (who are describing the fighting in Helmand province as the worst they've seen in Afghanistan since 2001) have asked the US to leave the area of operations entirely. To put it another way, the American way of war has proven so bad that it totally outweighs any advantages the British might have perceived.

Commenter Technetium took me to task for describing our progress in Afghanistan as "jack shit" last week, and sent me a few links to, I imagine, change my thinking -- or at least add to my thinking. (Please, nobody should ever hesitate to do this.) But I'm not about to take back those words, largely because of stories like this. We're proceeding from the (probably correct) view that, if we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban and others will reemerge and challenge the Karzai government for control of the country. At the same time, we're using methods that a) guarantee more popular support for our enemies and b) do nothing to actually win the war. (Air strikes are always, always, always ineffective against rural, low-tech insurgencies.) Our current posture, therefore, is nothing but a holding action. We refuse to commit sufficient resources to actually conclude this war in a meaningful sense. So the war goes on. So we have to stay longer. So the costs, in lives and dollars, continues to go up.

This is what I meant when I used those words, and I still mean it. The only meaningful definition of "progress" when it comes to foreign wars is "getting closer to the day when our soldiers can successfully come home." And I don't believe we're heading in the right direction. I'm not even sure that's a possibility anymore.


Olaf said...


If you were to characterize the frequency which air strikes are ineffective against rural, low-tech insurgencies, would you say they are:

a)never ineffective;
b)sometimes ineffective; or
c)usually ineffective?

Also, great contribution on nuclear power. People loved it, and it sparked a pretty passionate (but very reasonable and intelligent) debate at the forum. Kudos.

john said...

Separate two concepts: 1) Air strikes, and 2) Air power.

1 can sometimes score an immediate victory -- the predator drone that kills OBL would be an example, but in general 2 is worse than useless.

The primary mission in counter-insurgency is not to destroy the enemy, but to protect the civilian population. Air power cannot do this, period, full stop.

The attempt to do this with airpower, meanwhile, ends up turning the civilian population against us when we inevitably bomb a wedding party or something.

Technetium said...


I agree with you (prehaps in ignorance) about the problems US air strike are having. I'd guess in mountain outposts and similar 'civilian' free locations air strikes would be productive, as opposed to counter-productive from a hearts and minds point of view that these civilian casuaties are.

The only meaningful definition of "progress" when it comes to foreign wars is "getting closer to the day when our soldiers can successfully come home."

Heh, you need to tighten your definition, otherwise, we are achieving more and more progress the closer we get to 2009 ;)

I have a bit of difficutly commenting because I'm not sure whether we are discussing Canada in Kandahar, the US everywhere, or UNAMA and NATO in Afghanistan (or whichever is most convenient to get out points accross ;) and I don't want to create an artificial disagreement I think we are slipping into.

Olaf said...


For the record, I was trying (in vein) to make a joke. You made it quite clear that the answer to my question would be "always ineffective", by using the word always 3 times in a row. In fairness to you, however, you may have had difficulty discerning the fact that it was a joke, due to the fact it wasn't at all funny.