Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bombing Less in Afghanistan

Lara Dadkhah thinks Americans are making a mistake by doing less bombing in Afghanistan:

American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by “hearts and minds” enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance. Last July, the commander of Western forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued a directive that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) be authorized only under “very limited and prescribed conditions.”

So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.

I don't know about "proof," but those people who have studied counter-insurgency warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries have all come to the same conclusion that killing civilians is a bad idea; the US Marines' "Small Wars Manual" of the 1920s says that killing one wrong person can undo the good done by killing 100 of the right ones. So McChrystal is only following military tradition in issuing these orders.

Besides which there is the small problem that killing civilians in wartime is murder -- clearly defined as such by the Geneva Conventions. The excuse that these are accidental deaths, the unfortunate result of militarily necessary acts, wears thin after a while, especially when you consider how few American soldiers and Marines have been killed in firefights. (Most of our losses are do to IEDs.)

Our aim in Afghanistan is not to defeat the Taliban, but to persuade them to make a peace deal with the Karzai government. The fewer of their relatives we kill, the easier this will be.

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