On August 22 a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan allegedly killed as many as 90 civilians.The Air Force disputes this, despite a corroborating U.N. report. Defense Secretary Robert Gates “said avoiding civilian casualties is a high priority,” according to the Air Force Association Daily Report:
“We’re very concerned about this,” he said. “We work at that hard, work at it harder, and then take another look to see what more we can do to limit innocent people who are killed when we go after our enemies.” … Coalition forces are meticulous in planning and executing air strikes to avoid civilians. During Gates’ visit, Brig. Gen. James Holmes, commander of Bagram’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, showed streaming imagery of an F-15E air strike against insurgents that was called off due to concerns over potentially hitting innocents in the area.
Gates might be right about all those precautions, but reality and perception are often leagues apart, and the sad reality is that U.S. airpower absolutely terrifies many foreign civilians at a time when winning civilians’ consent is critical to defeating entrenched insurgencies.
Consider that a mere sighting of supposed U.S. warplanes was enough to cause a near riot on August 29 in southern Somalia, which has been targeted by U.S. forces pursuing suspected Al-Qaeda operatives.
Hundreds of civilians broke into a gallop after the warplanes flew low-speed in threesomes over the town [of Kismayu] which is situated 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of the capital, Mogadishu, a Press TV correspondent reported. The reason for the presence of the aircraft in the Somali airspace is yet unknown.
Regardless of the truth regarding civilian casualties of U.S. airstrikes, it’s clear that America has a perception problem. The perception is that U.S. warplanes mean indiscriminate death. As U.S. ground forces become exhausted, forcing air power to fill the gap, this perception might undermine efforts to turn foreign populations against extremist elements.
(Photo: Kevin Lampinen)