Death From Above

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Use of airstrikes way up in Iraq. Colin Kahl forecasts even more in the future:

"Part of this is announcing our presence to the adversary," said Kahl, who recently returned from a trip to the air operations center. "Across this calendar year you will see a reduction in U.S. forces, so there will be fewer troops to support Iraqi forces. One would expect a continued level of airstrikes because of offensive operations, and as U.S. forces begin to draw down you may see even more airstrikes."

Increased reliance on firepower as a substitute for adequate manpower strikes me as a classic COIN no-no, but Kahl seems to approve and even told USA Today last week that due to increased carefulness, the civil toll is being reduced: "You saw a lot more damage to the civilian population in 2004 than you're seeing now. Even though you have a huge uptick in offensive operations, it looks like the military is taking greater care not to harm civilians." Obviously, I hope that's right. It's my understanding, however, that the Defense Department still doesn't count civilian casualties so I don't really understand how they would know whether or not you're seeing a reduction in damage to the civilian population. In my book, the first step in "taking greater care" to avoid something is to measure what's happening.

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

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