According to the residents of Datta Khel, a town in
The killers were robots, General Atomics MQ-1 Predators. The AGM-114 Hellfire missiles they used in the attack were directed from a base deep in the southern
It was not the first time Predators had struck. The previous year a CIA Predator took a shot at al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but missed. The missile, however, killed 18 people. According to the Asia Times piece, at least one other suspected al-Qaeda member was assassinated by a Predator in
These assaults are part of what may be the best kept secret of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts: an enormous intensification of US bombardments in these and other countries in the region, the increasing number of civilian casualties such a strategy entails, and the growing role of pilot-less killers in the conflict.
According to Associated Press, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on
Balad, which currently conducts 10,000 air operations a week, is strengthening runways to handle the increase in air activity. Col. David Reynolds told the AP, “We would like to get to be a field like
The Air Force certainly appears to be settling in for a long war. “Until we can determine that the Iraqis have got their air force to significant capability,” says Lt Gen. Gary North, the regional air commander, “I think the coalition will be here to support that effort.”
The Iraqi air force is virtually non-existent. It has no combat aircraft and only a handful of transports.
Improving the runways has allowed the Air Force to move B1-B bombers from Diego Garcia in the
The step-up in air attacks is partly a reflection of how beaten up and overextended
Besides increasing the number of F-16s, B1-Bs, and A-10 attack planes, Predator flight hours over both countries have doubled from 2005. “The Predator is coming into its own as a no-kidding weapon verses a reconnaissance-only platform,” brags Maj. Jon Dagley, commander of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.
The Air Force is also deploying a bigger, faster and more muscular version of the Predator, the MQ-9 “Reaper” — as in grim — a robot capable of carrying four Hellfire missiles, plus two 500 lb. bombs.
The Predators and the Reapers have several advantages, the most obvious being they don’t need pilots. “With more Reapers I could send manned airplanes home,” says North.
At $8.5 million an aircraft — the smaller Predator comes in at $4.5 million apiece — they are also considerably cheaper than the F-16 ($19 million) the B1-B ($200+ million) and even the A-10 ($9.8 million).
The Air Force plans to deploy 170 Predators and 70 Reapers over the next three years. “It is possible that in our lifetime we will be able to run a war without ever leaving the
The result of the stepped up air war, according to the London-based organization Iraq Body Count, is an increase in civilian casualties. A Lancet study of “excess deaths” caused by the
The number of civilian deaths in
“A senior British commander,” according to the New York Times, has pressed U.S. Special Forces (SF) to leave southern
SFs called in an air strike last November near
It has also opened up the allies to the charge of war crimes. In a recent air attack in southern
But Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions clearly states: “The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants.” Article 50 dictates that “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilian does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”
The stepped-up air war in both countries has less to do with a strategic military decision than the reality that the occupations are coming apart at the seams.
For all intents and purposes, the U.S. Army in
It is much the same in
“Far from bringing about the intended softening up of the opposition,” Phillip Gordon, a Brookings Institute Fellow, told the Asia Times, “bombing tends to rally people behind their leaders and cause them to dig in against outsiders who, whatever the justification, are destroying their homeland.”