BAGHDAD, Iraq - American forces have dramatically increased airstrikes in Iraq during the past five months, a change of tactics that may foreshadow how the United States plans to battle a still-strong insurgency while reducing the number of U.S. ground troops serving here.
A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year.
In addition to the obvious and extremely serious moral downside here--air strikes obliterate civilians in large numbers--the piece notes some practical drawbacks to relying on aerial bombings at the expense of combat patrols.
In the town of Samarra, for example, insurgents last month were able to spend several hours rigging explosives in the dome of a Shiite shrine that they later destroyed, in part because American troops patrolled less. The shrine's destruction triggered a week of sectarian violence that killed hundreds. U.S. soldiers interviewed in Samarra three weeks earlier said patrols in the city had been significantly reduced because the number of troops had been reduced by two-thirds.
(Not that the combat patrols were working out that great.) And then there's the hearts-and-minds dimension.
A tribal sheik who lives on the outskirts of the troubled Anbar town of Ramadi, who asked that he be identified as Abu Tahseen instead of by his full name out of fear of possible retribution, said that the strikes create more insurgents than they kill because of the region's tribal dictates of revenge.
"They (the Americans) think: `As long as there are resistance fighters operating in this spot, we will wipe it out entirely,'" Abu Tahseen said, using the term for insurgents favored by Iraqis sympathetic to their cause. "As you know, our nature is a tribal one, and so if one from us is killed, we kill three or four in return."
Good for Knight Ridder for taking the elementary trouble to compile the statistics from press releases provided by the U.S. Central Command. Though the U.S. air war in Iraq has gained a bit more media attention since Seymour Hersh took it up in the New Yorker last December, the topic is generally little covered--except by the likes of Dahr Jamail and Tom Engelhardt.