Monday, June 18, 2007

Seven Children Die

But for length this post would be entitled "Example 376 of the Overuse of Airpower During Counter-insurgency Operations" or alternately "Ways to Lose a Counter-insurgency":

Seven children were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting suspected al-Qaida militants in eastern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said Monday, while police said they had detained a suspect in a deadly suicide bombing over the weekend.

In an operation backed by Afghan troops, jets on Sunday targeted a compound that also contained a mosque and an Islamic school in the Zarghun Shah district of Paktika province.

Initial reports said seven children at the madrassa school and "several militants" were killed. Two militants were also detained, the statement said.

The excerpt quotes coaltion spokesman who of course blame the militants for the presence of children in the building that was bombed. The excerpt I link to doesn't say it, but I heard the report on the radio and one of the spokesmen actually said that the children would not have been killed had they not been "forced" to stay in the building...because of course when you're under attack the first thing you want to do is make sure your children are running around free outside.

I'm not saying American forces recklessly targeted the building, or knew their were children inside. What I am saying is that when you use bombs to attack small groups of men running around on the ground, and you drop those bombs in the middle of an inhabited compound, the odds are good that you're going to kill civilians, including women and children, on a fairly regular basis. Because of the nature of counter-insurgency operations it makes little sense to me to use bombs, even precision-guided ones, on anything approaching a regular basis. Counter-insurgency requires the kind of nuanced application of force that only soldiers on the ground can provide; bombs from the air-even smart ones-are no substitute. So why do we use them so regularly? For one we don't like to get our own soldiers killed, and if it means a few extra civilians die in the process then so be it. Second, we're short of manpower in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and airpower is a handy substitute for bodies on the ground. Last, we love our technology and when you have an arsenal full of laser-guided munitions, who wouldn't want to use one? Those reasons are why we are now regularly dropping bombs in residential areas in Iraq (something you'll even see on the news if you watch the clips closely enough.)

Unfortunately, it's also a good way to lose a war. Blow up a few kids and you might as well be signing up fighters and providing aid for the enemy yourself. There's also an argument that it's just wrong, but I don't want to sound overly sentimental of course.

UPDATE: What Yglesias says.

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