Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of Strafing Runs and Pyrrhic Victories

Last spring I started noticing a trend in the news reports coming out of Iraq. Air strikes were – are – being used with increasing frequency. Well, I was right to notice. As of the end of May, the United States had already dropped more bombs than they did in all of 2006, according to an AP story by Charles Hanley dated 05 June:

"U.S. warplanes have again stepped up attacks in Iraq, dropping bombs at more than twice the rate of a year ago. … And it appears to be accomplished by a rise in Iraqi civilian casualties.

"In the first 4 1/2 months of 2007, American aircraft dropped 237 bombs and missiles in support of ground forces in Iraq, already surpassing the 229 expended in all of 2006, according to Air Force figures obtained by The Associated Press."

Using air strikes against a counter-insurgency is a very serious act – it is a desperate last move of an army that is losing. It sure ain’t a stand-up fight. I would go so far as to argue that the reliance on air power is evidence of the failure of the s(pl)urge.

First of all, it indicates that our forces are facing an adversary that is increasing in effectiveness, and that is developing both strategic and tactical acumen. It speaks to the ability of the insurgents as a fighting force, at least to the locals.

The pitched battles will always go to the Americans, because the Americans can call in the Air Strikes. But that they are increasingly necessary in order for the Americans to not lose the battle, represents overwhelming psychological victory.

Air strikes always kill far more civilians than targeted fighters, and this serves to enrage the local populace. This has the net effect of increasing the sympathies of the locals to the insurgent fighters that were the targets of the aerial assault. Air strikes also kill indiscriminately and they destroy vital civilian infrastructure.

Psychologically, it is a boon to the insurgency – the United States is a bunch of cowards who only dare fight from five miles high, dropping bombs indiscriminately, on innocents as well as insurgents. Morally, it turns the United States into a Goliath that must be fought, and must be slain.

This is the stuff that martyrs are made of, and we are intervening in a culture with a long, strong and proud tradition of martyrdom. Just the folks whose resolve needs a good strengthening.

[Crossposted from WTWC]

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