Warplanes: Smart Bombs Force Change in Tactics on the Ground


June 9, 2006: For the U.S. Air Force, Afghanistan has become the major theater of war. In May, American warplanes delivered 750 air strikes in Afghanistan, 14 percent than in May, 2005. Meanwhile, the number of air strikes in Iraq continued to decline, as it has been doing for most of this year. But in May, there were fewer air strikes in Iraq than in Afghanistan. For the last three months in Afghanistan, there have been about 2,000 air strikes.

Most of the air strikes were smart bombs delivered by B-1 bombers (which replaced a departing unit of B-52s on May 1st). The heavy bombers like the B-1 and B-52 operate out of Diego Garcia (a 44 square kilometer island 4,700 kilometers south of Afghanistan). Small (six or so aircraft) units of heavy bombers rotate in and out of the island every three months. One or two are usually in the air over Afghanistan 24/7. Each heavy bomber carries 10- 12 tons of bombs, and stays in the air for some sixteen hours, during each sortie over Afghanistan. Most of the bombs are 500 pound JDAMs. Some of the air strikes are by A-10s, using their 30mm cannon, or missiles. Some AC-130 gunships are also in the area.

The enemy in Iraq has become very wary of smart bombs, especially that 500 pound JDAM. Anti-government forces know that if they are cornered, a JDAM will be arriving shortly, often within ten minutes. Naturally, Iraqis like to exaggerate such things, so most of them think that American troops merely have to point their fingers and mumble the magic words, and the JDAM arrives within a minute or two. This fear of JDAM has caused American troops to adapt as well. More often, the enemy gunmen will try and flee, which puts a premium on mobility and a sharp eye for nervous guys with AK-47s, trying to run away as inconspicuously as possible. Some of the enemy fighters will be more clever and just ditch the rifle and try to blend in. But this is also dangerous, because there are all those UAVs up there, capturing such moves on video. Iraqi police and soldiers usually operate with Americans these days, and they can go in and search for whoever looked suspicious on the UAV video.

In Afghanistan, the bad guys sometimes go hide in caves. JDAMs can do caves. Afghanistan is a rough place for fleeing gunmen, because there is less vegetation. Those treeless hills are not only a bitch to run up, but there's no place to hide. The current "Spring Offensive" by the Taliban has not turned out well, largely because of American air power. The Taliban in some areas are already changing their tactics, and giving up on the large scale attacks. This means relying on small scale terrorism, with two or three Taliban coming by at night to make threats, or to murder anyone who ignored them earlier. For this, the cure is more police, not smart bombs.


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