January 25, 2012:
An ancient military tactic is the "demonstration." This means showing off your military power, without using it, in order to coerce your enemy into doing what you want. In the last decade the demonstration has been used more frequently, partly due to new technology.
In Afghanistan, it's increasingly common for warplanes to perform a "show of force" (a low level pass, sometimes breaking the sound barrier for additional booming effect) rather than use weapons. This is especially common because the Taliban frequently use civilians as human shields. Some 80 percent of civilian combat deaths are due to Taliban terror. And every civilian death caused by foreign troops gets big media play in Afghanistan, largely due to Taliban and drug gang influence (bribes and terror) with the local media. So these demonstrations are more frequent. As a result, in the last few years combat aircraft in Afghanistan typically drop smart bombs, use missiles, or fire cannon only once or twice per hundred sorties.
Most of the time pilots use their $2 million targeting pods to search the ground below. These pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 6,500 meters (20,000 feet) to clearly make out what is going on down there. The pods also contain laser designators for laser guided bombs and laser range finders that enable pilots to get coordinates for JDAM (GPS guided) bombs. Safely outside the range of most anti-aircraft fire (five kilometers up and up to fifty kilometers away), pilots can literally see the progress of ground fighting and tend to end up as aerial observers for ground forces. These capabilities also enable pilots to more easily find targets themselves and hit them with laser guided or JDAM bombs. While bombers still get target information from ground controllers for close (to friendly troops) air support they can now go searching on their own in areas where there are no friendly ground troops. The 200 kg (440 pound) pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb, or fuel tank.
The fighter pilots use of their targeting pods and "demonstrations" often enables troops on the ground to get Taliban away from civilians (who will often flee in the confusion accompanying an aircraft flying low, loud, and very close). The Taliban often cannot keep civilians with them for a long time (armed kinsmen of their "shields" might eventually show up). So when the Taliban are out in the open without human shields troops can close in to capture (preferably for questioning) or kill (to prevent them getting away) them.
Artillery is also useful for demonstrations. A few 155mm shells or a 227mm GPS guided rocket in the right place can produce some attitude adjustment. Snipers, especially those using .50 caliber (12.7mm), weapons can also be used to make a point without killing anyone.
Another form of demonstration is the night raid. Thousands of these have been used to capture Taliban or search suspected enemy hideouts. By coming in at night, seemingly out of nowhere, even armed men inside the compound are disoriented and, in most cases, captured without a shot being fired.
All this intimidation through the use of force is understood by Afghans because many of their tribal wars are won through intimidation rather than battle. Having a lot of your tribal gunmen stand around in the right place (like the high ground overlooking a key pass) sends a message more effectively, and cheaply, than a lot of gunfire. Bullets are expensive and people on both sides might get killed. Afghanistan has the lowest life expectancy in Eurasia, in part because of the constant fighting, so there is an effort made to win via demonstrations and negotiation. The foreign troops have learned to operate this way as well.