Warplanes: Taliban Tactics Defeat Bombers


October 15, 2008:  Although the U.S. Air Force has three times as many aircraft in Iraq, it has been dropping more bombs this year in Afghanistan. Not that many bombs are dropped. So far this year, there have been only about 2,000 instances of aircraft weapons being used, and sometimes that consists of a fighter or A-10 strafing run, or cannon fired from an AC-130 gunship. Just as frequently, the warplanes will perform a "shows of force" (a low level pass, sometimes breaking the sound barrier for additional, booming, effect.)

These air attacks have a devastating effect on the Taliban, al Qaeda and bandits that NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops encounter. The best defense the enemy has come up with is to take shelter in a compound or building filled with civilians. But many of the civilians have come to realize how this works, and will often flee when the bad guys show up looking for a place to stay. That often results in the Taliban forcing the civilians to remain, often at gunpoint. The Taliban know that mingling with civilians will sometimes cause the Americans to not bomb, and that if they do bomb, the dead civilians are turned into powerful propaganda ("American war crimes…"), that puts more pressure on the U.S. to further tighten the ROE (Rules of Engagement, under what circumstances bombs can be dropped.)

It's gotten to the point where no bombs, or even cannon fire, are allowed if civilians are present and U.S. ground troops are not in immediate danger. In many cases, the bad guys use this opportunity (troops outside the compound, bombers overhead, civilians all about) to sneak off into the night and get away, and kill another day. The ground commander can often get permission to bomb before the target flees, but only if the right people in the chain of command (sometimes going all the way back to Washington) are awake and reachable in time. But more and more often, the bombs are not dropped, and the Taliban win another one.

When American troops are under attack, and in danger, the ROE is a lot more permissive, even if there are civilians in the area. But the Taliban are getting more creative in their use of human shields, which has, so far, proved to be the only tactic that can defeat smart bombs and American air power.


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