Warplanes: Making Every Bomb Count in Afghanistan


March 15, 2007: In 2005, the U.S. Air Force dropped 176 bombs and missiles in Afghanistan. Last year, they dropped ten times as many. Some 3,000 Taliban fighters were killed by these bombs. Because all the attacks used missiles or smart bombs, very few civilians were killed (fewer than a hundred.) So few civilians were killed that, whenever there were civilian deaths, the Taliban press officers jumped all over it as an example of American atrocities against the Afghan people, and because such deaths happened so rarely, they caught peoples attention.

While much of that increase in bomb use came from the increased activity of the Taliban, a lot of the new bombing opportunities came from better intelligence. The air force and army (both American and NATO) deployed better electronic sensors. There were more UAVs all around. The ground forces used superior scouting and reconnaissance techniques to find an elusive enemy. But there was also a lot of help from Afghan civilians. The Taliban made a major mistake by going after the schools (burning down over a hundred of them, and otherwise shutting down more than twice as many.) Many otherwise pro-Taliban Afghans wanted the schools to stay open, and the anger at the anti-school effort, brought in a lot of tips. The Taliban were not so elusive with all those villagers informing on them.

Another Taliban problem was that most of their manpower had been recruited in Pakistan. While these guys were, like most people in southern Afghanistan, Pushtuns, they were from different tribes, and, well, different neighborhoods. That made it easier for Afghan Pushtuns to be unfriendly enough to pass information along to the police, or American troops coming through.


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