A dream come true for Osama Bin Laden
It’s rare for a top U.S. military commander in a war zone to be relieved of duty before his tour is even halfway complete, but that’s precisely what occurred Monday, in what the Washington Post described as “a hastily convened” Pentagon news conference. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander on his way out, just last week sought to persuade reporters that recent U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan were not responsible for numerous civilian deaths. Turns out they were responsible for at least some of the deaths. (It remains unclear whether insurgents also were responsible for some.) Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave only a vague explanation for McKiernan’s ouster, citing the need for “fresh thinking” and “fresh eyes on the problem” of seven years and counting. Whatever the specific reasons, the unusual shakeup makes clear that behind the scenes there are serious doubts about current U.S. strategy.
The prolific bombing component of it, however, appears to remain intact. Despite outcry over a long-term pattern of civilian casualties, including from Afghanistan’s own leader Hamid Karzai, President Obama’s National Security Advisor James L. Jones said on Sunday that the U.S. has no intention of ceasing air strikes.
If the recent trend is any indication, in the days to come Afghanistan can expect to be hit with an awful lot of U.S. firepower from above. As the Navy Times reported last week:
Air Force, Navy and other coalition warplanes dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during April, Air Forces Central figures show. In the past month, warplanes released 438 bombs, the most ever.
April also marked the fourth consecutive month that the number of bombs dropped rose, after a decline starting last July. The munitions were released during 2,110 close-air support sorties.
The actual number of airstrikes was higher because the AFCent numbers don’t include attacks by helicopters and special operations gunships. The numbers also don’t include strafing runs or launches of small missiles.
The announcement of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to replace McKiernan would seem to indicate a rising emphasis on unconventional warfare. McChrystal is credited as the architect of successful special operations tactics in Iraq, including the storied operation that killed terrorist kingpin Abu Zarqawi in 2006. (See this captivating account of the mission by Mark Bowden that appeared in The Atlantic.) The problem of course is that in Afghanistan the U.S. is confronting an elusive enemy in far more forbidding terrain.
Congress, it seems, has plenty to ponder this week as it considers plowing additional stockpiles of money into a long war with no end in sight.