Warplanes: The Bored Skies Over Iraq


November 6, 2007: The decline in U.S. casualties over the past few months has been accompanied by a sharp decline in U.S. Air Force combat activity. The enemy is not there anymore. They are dead, fled or given up the violent life. In the first nine months of the year, air force (including British) jets carried out 2,539 attacks (with bombs or cannon). That was up 43 percent from the same period last year. Activity peaked in August, when there were 303 attacks, but fell to 90 in September, and continued to decline in October.

One F-16 squadron has been here for two months, and has made no (as in zero) attacks. The pilots have been busy, however, constantly using their targeting pods to act as aerial scouts for ground troops. But they have not come across any bad guys the G.I.s couldn't handle. The infantry have plenty of guided missiles and "smart" artillery (GPS guided shells and rockets) available. The pilots are beginning to feel unneeded.

Particularly missed are the strafing runs, usually to knock out a sniper the ground troops were having a hard time with. The air force doesn't like its pilots coming in low and using cannon. It's dangerous, what with all the stuff flying around near the deck. And at least one pilot got distracted on a strafing run and flew into the ground. But you sign up to be a fighter pilot to take risks, and these days, there is not much of that in the skies over Iraq. The pilots are not happy with this.


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