Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan’s Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.
Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. “We didn’t come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.
The new approach flows from U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy that the war in Afghanistan can only be won by winning the full support of the Afghan people, not just by killing or capturing militants. As he says in this counter-insurgency guidance issued last year, ”security may not come from overwhelming firepower, and force protection may mean more personal interaction with the Afghan people, not less.” Thus the use of air power and long range artillery, which can lead to civilian casualties, can only be authorised under very limited and prescribed conditions.
The new strategy has already unfolded on the ground, and Marjah is no exception. Dadkhah says analysis of U.S. military data shows that while the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, the number of close air support sorties which are usually in aid of troops under fire grew by only 27 percent. It can only mean 1) troops are calling for air support less often than before McChrystal’s directives 2) that even when they do, their requests are denied.