Friday, January 05, 2007

Air power and Iraq

I've been reading the pamphlet Jon Cruddas MP wrote with the usually excellent John Harris "Fit For Purpose" and when my blood pressure decreases and my GP allows I will be blogging on it - however until that time has anyone come across Project Censored before?

I was forwarded the link by a reader and it looks interesting, although a few of their stories (on 9/11 and the piece on US troops in Paraguay particularly) are the kind that will always make me a little cautious.

However, there was also an intriguing item, Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians, which explores issues that I think bear further thought. The article speculates that whilst Bush may well be seeking to reduce the number of ground troops stationed in Iraq it will only be to replace them with an increased air capacity to act in concert with Iraqi government ground forces.

If this turns out to be true then this certainly won't be the first time that Western air power has been used to suppress the region. From 1920 parts of the Middle East were divied up between the victorious Western players of the First World War. Iraq was governed by the British, Lebanon and Syria by the French.

The British government installed a puppet regime that inspired a nationalist uprising (the 1920 Great Iraqi Revolution) which was essentially a mass rebellion bringing together creeds and regions.

In order to protect their puppet (and control of the region) the British began to rely almost exclusively on the newly formed RAF, with its ability to cover large distances, to spread terror throughout the region by committing murderous reprisals against areas that were not playing ball. The casualties caused by the RAF strafing and bombing raids were not just an inevitable consequence of their behaviour, these indiscriminate killings were the actual policy objective.

Whilst the regime was completely reliant upon the British, both politically and militarily, this puppet government did not always see eye to eye with its benefactors. In 1923 the Iraqis outrageously demanded that a whopping 20% of oil revenue go to the Iraqi government rather than the British / French consortium TPC. This was clearly not cricket and these demands were well and truly passed over when the TPC consortium was renamed (apparently without irony) as the Iraq Petroleum Company combining UK, French, Dutch and US companies - and what could the Iraqi regime do? They needed the British armed forces to protect them from the people they had been installed to rule over.

Some of the modern day counterparts in the American Air Forces are said to have reservations about using air power in this way. Partly out of a distrust for the democratic credentials of the people they are propping up, one senior military planner is quoted as saying “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of their own sect and blame someone else? Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of al-Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

The Project Censored article reports that air sorties are on the increase and its difficult to see this as anything other than the US government giving up on trying to win hearts and minds in Iraq altogether and are increasingly reliant on the use of brute force to maintain their dominion of the region.

Air power can be used in a relatively targeted way in "regular" warfare against conventional forces but when used against guerrilla forces, particularly when dug into an urban environment air strikes are guaranteed to create unacceptably high civilian casualties.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski states the reasons behind the policy rather well when she says;

“Shifting the mechanism of the destruction of Iraq from soldiers and Marines to distant and safer air power would be successful in several ways. It would reduce the negative publicity value of maimed American soldiers and Marines, would bring a portion of our troops home and give the Army a necessary operational break. It would increase Air Force and Naval budgets, and line defense contractor pockets. By the time we figure out that it isn’t working to make oil more secure or to allow Iraqis to rebuild a stable country, the Army will have recovered and can be redeployed in force.”


If the US is genuinely considering shifting their combination of forces towards a predominantly air dominated mix perhaps it could be seen as a cynical maneuver to save US lives (and reduce punishing headlines) at the expense of far greater Iraqi casualties, casualties the Western public care far less about.


The Sentinel said...

You are exactly right about the indiscriminate, inaccurate nature of air power as a weapon. Especially when wielded by the Americans.

To this day, the USAF conventional bombing strategies come from information gleaned from Albert Speer, the Nazi armaments minister.

But the US have never seemed to learn that air power is only useful in destroying conventional forces, it cannot be used to hold ground or defeat organised guerrillas. (Vietnam for instance.)

Considering there are no more opposing conventional forces left in Iraq just how will jets and bombs police the vanquished below?

As I said before, this war was aimed at destabilising Iraq more then any other motive and the whole game plan appears grossly incompetent until you realise that.

badmatthew said...

The Project Censored stuff is based on Seymour Hersh and Dahr Jamail, both of whom are serious reporters. The stuff about the unreported airwar has had a bit of coverage I've seen.

But really Jim when everyone else is talking about a surge in numbers of troops it's very brave of you to go for a more airwar perspective. It's always been element, just look for more airstrikes against supposed resistance sites.

Jim Jay said...

Brave? That's me all over.

Anyway, I hope there are enough caveats in there along the lines of "if this is true" to show that I'm trying to talk about what the consequence of the policy would be rather than to state definatively that is definately what the new approach is.

What do you think? The Democrats are making life difficult demanding troop withdrawal - could this be a consequence?

Oh and thanks for info on PC

badmatthew said...

ooh, I don't want to give PC a clean bill of health, just the sources for this article. It's one of quite a lot of radical, anti-war, quasi-conspiratorialist web-sites that exist in the void of a larger movement. I didn't find the stuff on Paraguay, but would say that yes US forces are there in quite large numbers, special forces types, concerned with the whole cross-border thing in a triangle between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, which seems to be a strong focus for the international drugs business, but allegedly also as a conduit for terrorists - suspicions being focused on the quite large Lebanese diaspora, especially after the rather nasty bombing of the Buenos Aires synagogue in 1994, usually attributed to Hezbollah with Iranian involvement - although, of course, it remains murky.

Sorry to miss your caveats. To be honest I think the Democrats will make things difficult as a means of helping themselves in 2008, so yes, Senate hearing, Scooter Libby trial, etc. But while Bush is responsible for an unpopular and losing policy their interest is in keeping him dangling in the wind (toi go back to a favourite Nixonian term) rather than effectively changing policy. You don't think they are principled opponents of the war do you?