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November 04, 2007

US Pilots Running Far Fewer Air Support/Bombing Missions Now That Iraq Is In "Lull"

Another grim milestone.

The concrete barriers keep score.

Air Force F-16 squadrons passing through Balad Air Base have used the tall slabs outside their temporary headquarters to tally the number of bombs dropped by pilots over the course of their deployments.

Small, black icons of bombs represent each precision-guided weapon dropped. Tiny, painted guns mark each time a jet has used its 20 mm guns.

The block for the 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is bare because it still has another two months left in its Iraq tour. But the unit from Spangdahlem, Germany, is far from matching the totals set by its predecessors this past summer.

While the Air Force has already dropped more than four times as many bombs in Iraq in 2007 as it dropped last year, pilots say that trend has surprisingly changed in the past month. Just as the number of U.S. deaths and insurgent attacks in Iraq have hit new lows for the year, the pilots have noticed a lull in the calls for airstrikes.

“We’ve trained as fighter pilots to come out and do the mission, and many of us want to do that part of the mission,” pilot Capt. Nicklaus Walker said.

“But if we’re not having to employ, then that means they’re safe on the ground.”

The number of airstrikes increased dramatically with the surge in forces in Iraq ordered by President Bush in January.

Coalition forces in the first nine months executed 996 airstrikes, up from 229 last year, according to Air Force statistics provided to Stars and Stripes. The number of strikes reached a peak of 303 in August before dropping to 90 in September. Although the Air Force is still counting the October numbers, pilots said the number has gone down.

Compare this fact to the unhinged musings of the amateur leftist webzine Slate, claiming that Iraqi civilian casualties are zooming because we're bombing like crazy, apparently oblivious to the fact that Iraqi civilian casualties are dropping like a stone.

So, what accounts for the decline in American deaths since the summer? It's hard to say for sure, but one little-reported cause is almost certainly a relative shift in U.S. tactics from fighting on the ground to bombing from the air.

On Sunday, U.S. soldiers were searching for a leader of a kidnapping ring in Baghdad's Sadr City. The soldiers came under fire from a building. Rather than engage in dangerous door-to-door conflict, they called in air support. Army helicopters flew overhead and shelled the building, killing several of the fighters but also at least six innocent civilians.* (The bad guy got away.)

In other words, though the shift means greater safety for our ground troops, it also generates more local hostility. Striking urban targets from the air inevitably means killing more innocent bystanders. This makes some of the bystanders' relatives yearn for vengeance. And it makes many Iraqis—relatives, neighbors, and others watching the news of the attack on television—less trusting of the American troops who are supposedly protecting them.

Whatever, dude.

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posted by Ace at 04:06 PM

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