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Precision Bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan

CNN’s Ed Henry, their White House correspondent, recently spotted the President of the United States “walking in the footsteps of Jesus along the Sea of Galilee” (CNN International, January 17, 2008 [WIB]).

The Washington Post reports that as the President was walking, troops under his command were bombing Iraq and Afghanistan with increasing intensity. (Josh White, “U.S. Boosts Its Use of Airstrikes In Iraq,” Washington Post, Thursday, January 17, 2008).

It’s part of the return to the post-Vietnam tactics that worked so well for Washington, substituting US bombs for US troop deaths: lessening the political damage in the US by increasing the physical damage in the place you’re bombing.

(The Post quotes Georgetown security studies professor Colin Kahl, who recently visited the US bombers, as noting that “as U.S. forces begin to draw down you may see even more airstrikes.”)

The Post, paraphrasing Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, says that US forces are doing precision bombing, “using 250-pound GBU-39 small-diameter bombs to make blasts safer for civilians.”

Regarding precision bombing they quote Marc Garlasco, a Human Rights Watch military analyst: “My major concern with what’s going on in Iraq is massive population density… you have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you’re going to hit. But I don’t think they’re being careless.”

If you buy this logic, as long as, say, Iraqui insurgent forces weren’t being careless, it would be OK on human rights grounds for them to bomb the US White House so long as they had sufficiently “granular intelligence” on where President Bush was sitting, and used one of those 250-pound bombs that “make blasts safer for civilians.”

Just hope that at that moment a servant wasn’t bringing Bush a cup of coffee, or that he wasn’t being visited by nieces, or a Cub Scout troop, or even, say, one of those human rights officials who now consult with General Petraeus or legitimize the idea of bombing countries that have been invaded illegally (according to, say, the British Foreign Office’s former deputy legal adviser, who resigned because “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to a crime of aggression”) so long as painted on one side of the bombs is the word “precision” (re. the British lawyer, see Steven Marks, “The legality of war,” Letters, The Economist, January 5th, 2008).

The whole theory of precision bombing is to narrow down the killing radius so that your piece of metal dropped from the sky (or thrown from a distant tube or ship) behaves like an assassin’s bullet.

In theory it, may, in a micro sense, occasionally spare some civilians (that is, in comparison to a hit by a bigger bomb, not in comparison to no bombing), but in both theory and practice, in a macro sense, it’s likely to increase the civilian death toll since by making each bomb-drop more legitimate back home it increases the likelihood that there will be more of them, and even the most ardent precision bombers admit that their 250-pounders do get civilians.

Indeed, the Post cites the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq as estimating “that more than 200 civilian deaths resulted from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq from the beginning of April to the end of last year, when U.S. forces began to significantly increase the strikes to coordinate with the expansion of ground troops.” And re. Afghanistan: “Human rights groups estimate that Afghan civilian casualties caused by airstrikes tripled to more than 300 in 2007, fueling fears that such aggressive bombardment could be catastrophic for the innocent.”

Those fears were fueled, not least, in the mind of US/UN-selected Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has complained frequently, but — in a ritual common to sponsor-client state relationships — not so vehemently that his US sponsors took his statements seriously enough to cut his budget, or simply replace him.

Regarding Iraq, the Post says the U.S. strategy “calls for coalition troops to clear hostile areas before holding and then rebuilding them” — which is impossible, since not even Bush of Galilee can rebuild 200-plus dead people.

ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.

 

 

 

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ALLAN NAIRN writes the blog News and Comment at www.newsc.blogspot.com.

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