Counterinsurgency by Air

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Somehow this Government Executive article about the Air Force looking to get in on the counterinsurgency game doesn't leave me feeling any rosier about the Defense Department's new alleged focus on irregular warfare. The same old bureaucratic imperatives seem to be in play, except now instead of the military focusing on conventional conflicts because that's what justified expensive hardware, we're now going to have all the same equipment and inter-service politics, but everyone will just assert that it's all about the counterinsurgency.

The Air Force, for example, "has taken to touting show of force missions as a vital tool in counterinsurgency." What does that mean? Well, it involves "low-level fly-overs" that are "intended to intimidate opponents on the ground." For example, "Jet aircraft fly a few hundred feet above rooftops in downtown Baghdad and drop a string of flares." Greg Grant, the reporter on the story, nicely deadpans that "it's difficult to discern how show of force demonstrations compete with an enemy who cuts off its opponents' heads and leaves the bodies lying in the streets."

What about the fact that the use of air strikes in counterinsurgency situations creates civilian casualties on a level that makes them massively counterproductive? Well, General. Allen Peck, director of the Air Force Doctrine Center, "agrees that recent air strikes, particularly in Afghanistan, have caused civilian casualties and generated ill will." Nevertheless, he assures us that "the Air Force follows strict rules before dropping bombs, Peck says, constantly refining the process to minimize possible civilian deaths." I've made this point before, but while I'm sure there's some truth to this, the basic reality is that the Pentagon doesn't even count civilian casualties, so they can't possibly know whether or not they're minimizing them and, on some level, they're obviously not taking that mandate very seriously.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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