The U.S. and its allies have unleashed a massive air campaign in Afghanistan, launching missiles and bombs from the sky at a rate rarely seen since the war’s earliest days. In October alone, NATO planes fired their weapons on 1,000 separate missions, U.S. Air Force statistics provided to Danger Room show. Since Gen. David Petraeus took command of the war effort in late June, coalition aircraft have flown 2,600 attack sorties. That’s 50% more than they did during the same period in 2009. Not surprisingly, civilian casualties are on the rise, as well.
NATO officials say the increase in air attacks is simply a natural outgrowth of a more aggressive campaign to push militants out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. “Simply put, our air strikes have increased because our operations have increased. We’ve made a concentrated effort in the south to clear out the insurgency and therefore have increased our number of troops on the ground and aircraft to support them in this effort,” Lt. Nicole Schwegman, a NATO spokesperson, tells Danger Room.
On the other hand, some outside observers believe the strikes are part of an attempt to soften up the insurgency before negotiations with them begin in earnest. But one thing is clear: it’s a strategy Petraeus has used before. Once he took over the Iraq war effort, air strikes jumped nearly sevenfold.
Next month, the Obama administration is set to review the strategy for the Afghanistan campaign. Petraeus’ newly-aggressive approach will almost certainly part of that examination. It’s a dramatic reversal from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy, which drastically restricted the use of air power — even when troops came under fire.