Saturday, May 9, 2009

Collateral Damage

Bombing mission Afghanistan
Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Attack Configuration
A1D Skyraider
Stryker Force


Reading the 8 May SWJ Roundup by SWJ Editors the articles about Afghan civilian deaths caused by airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets tiggered a flashback of forty year old memories. Air strikes in the proxmity of civilians seem to be our Achilles' heel, also known as Collateral damage that first surfaced during our long war in Vietnam and appears again, as we try to swat suspected sites from 20,000 feet. The lesson lost on most, is that when you kill some farmer's wife or child you will have endorsed a irrevocable contract with the farmer and your enemy to see you dead or gone.

US Admits Civilians Died in Afghan Raids - Elisabeth Bumiller and Carlotta Gall, New York Times.

Reading these reports bring to mind times in Vietnam when air strikes were called and we would wait to see who would show up. Early in the war 1965-67 often times it would be the A1D Skyraiders, slow moving almost indestructible fighter-bombers who could carry the same payload of a B-17 of World War II fame. The Official Website of the A-1 Skyraider Association.

When the Spads, as they were called, showed up, the ordnance was usually placed right on target as the pilot was able to see where he was dropping his load. The throb of their piston engines played the overture, as they roared in, 20's blazing at a tree line before a package of 500 lbs bombs shredded the enemies lines saving many a trooper to fight another day. If it were the fast movers the F-4's and F-100's, they would come in either at a steep dive bomb slope or zip by dropping their load at speeds that left little chance for correction, hence it seemed that to keep from hitting our guys they would error on the side of caution and often times the ordnance would hit wide of the mark. This is not to denigrate those brave souls flying the fast movers,
they were there to protect us at great risk to themselves and for that they will always deserve my undying gratitude.

But when, we are working in areas like Afghanistan where the innocent and the bad guys are blended into the same soup, we need to consider other means to pick the fly shit out of the pepper.

In a related post, Galrahn of Information Dissemination turns from the sea to look at Wings Over Somalia as a way of furthering the discussion on what to buy to meet the security challenges of the next decade.

I found this link within the post to illustrate that finding a way to put ordnance on target and reduce civilian deaths is getting a lot of traction. AF Mulls COIN Wing, New Planes has solicited 64 Comments » which shows the level of interest in finding a solution to this problem. The reality is, we need to have alternative platforms to preform the missions that appear to be the current bread and butter of the air assets of this nation. The A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" has been preforming this service in Iraq and Afghanistan and as noted, takes an incredible amount of maintenance time to keep them flying. They continue to be up-graded and rebuilt to extend their long service life. But they are getting old and the replacement the F35 is an expensive platform that is yet to be proven. The discussion now centers on finding an light to medium attack aircraft that is better suited to small wars.

The Army and Marine Corps land forces have been in the forefront of adopting to this new environment by adjusting from heavy tracked fighting vehicles to the wheeled Stryker and LAV 25 and the up-armored HMMWV which are more capable of operations in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The challenge for the Air Force and the Navy is to adjust to the conditions that require more risk. Sending out soldiers and airman to confront the enemy close-up will expose them to the enemy fire. I understand the trade off, you are not going to risk a billion dollar investment against the collateral damage that may occur. But, when it does happen, paying off the families survivors is only the tip of the iceberg. When that family, in the traditional law of revenge, allows the Taliban to set up an ambush that kills an American soldier or two, what have we gained? If we strike back by bombing the families compound and kill the rest, their extended families will just sharpen their daggers to be ready to carve another notch in their AK's stock when they draw the inevitable American blood.

The Navy has been finding that sending battleships to chase pirates is turning out to be expensive and not very successful. In response to the tremors to introduce mission capable ships echoing across the blogs,Where is the 10% in the Navy's fleet constitution strategy? and Influence Squadrons - The Next Evolution, to the halls of congress Notes From Last Thursday's House Subcommittee Hearing and onto the desks of planners in the Pentagon is demands for smaller craft that hearken back to the days of sail and gunboats, when sailors would see the eyes of their enemy.

Since this type of war is fought for the hearts and minds of the indigenous people of the nation we are trying to help, blowing them up along with the enemy will only guarantee the enemies success by convincing them that we are the bigger threat. As we remained engaged in Southwest Asia and someday soon in Africa, we need to have the tools to surgically remove the threat without destroying the patient.

The Small Wars Journal has this post, by James A. Gavrilis, a former Special Forces officer who has served two tours in Iraq, who writes.
One of the most profound changes the U.S. military must make to be effective at countering insurgency is to shift strategic centers of gravity from the physical to the human aspects of warfare.

The nature of counterinsurgency, or unconventional warfare, differs from conventional warfare in a very important way: the population is the center of gravity. We say this, but what does it mean? How does it change operations? How do we implement this idea? Many of our military leaders are still trying to answer these questions. Our military has a predisposition to focus on enemy forces and capabilities and the confrontation between friendly and enemy forces, with little emphasis on the social or political context within which the confrontation takes place.
This bookends the argument that winning the hearts and minds is the mission and the source code to defeating a counterinsurgency.

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