The New Yorker, December 2005
Title: “Up in the Air”
Author: Seymour M. Hersh
Tomdispatch, December 2005
Title: “An Increasingly Aerial Occupation”
Author: Dahr Jamail
Community Evaluator: Robert Manning
Student Researcher: Brian Fuchs
There is widespread speculation that President Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party as well as within the military itself, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq in 2006. A key element of the drawdown plans not mentioned in the President’s public statements, or in mainstream media for that matter, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Seymour Hersh quotes Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute, whose views often mirror those of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower.”
While battle fatigue increases among U.S. troops, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease within the military. Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis will eventually be responsible for target selection. Hersh quotes a senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon, “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of their own sect and blame someone else? Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of al-Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”
Dahr Jamail reports that the statistics gleaned from U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) indicate a massive rise in the number of U.S. air missions—996 sorties—in Iraq in the month of November 2005.
The size of this figure naturally begs the question, where are such missions being flown and what is their size and nature? It’s important to note as well that “air war” does not simply mean U.S. Air Force. Carrier-based Navy and Marine aircraft flew over 21,000 hours of missions and dropped over twenty-six tons of ordnance in Fallujah alone during the November 2004 siege of that city.
Visions of a frightful future in Iraq should not overshadow the devastation already caused by present levels of American air power loosed, in particular, on heavily populated urban areas of that country. The tactic of using massively powerful 500 and 1,000 pound bombs in urban areas to target small pockets of resistance fighters has, in fact, long been employed in Iraq. No intensification of the air war is necessary to make it commonplace. Jamail’s article provides a broad overview of the air power arsenals being used against the people of Iraq.
A serious study of violence to civilians in Iraq by a British medical journal, The Lancet, released in October 2004, estimated that 85 percent of all violent deaths in Iraq are generated by coalition forces (see Censored 2006, Story #2). 95 percent of reported killings (all attributed to U.S. forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry.1 While no significant scientific inquiry has been carried out in Iraq recently, Iraqi medical personnel, working in areas where U.S. military operations continue, report that they feel the “vast majority” of civilian deaths are the result of actions by the occupation forces.
Given the U.S. air power already being applied largely in Iraq’s cities and towns, the prospect of increasing it is chilling indeed. As to how this might benefit the embattled Bush administration, Jamail quotes U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski:
“Shifting the mechanism of the destruction of Iraq from soldiers and Marines to distant and safer air power would be successful in several ways. It would reduce the negative publicity value of maimed American soldiers and Marines, would bring a portion of our troops home and give the Army a necessary operational break. It would increase Air Force and Naval budgets, and line defense contractor pockets. By the time we figure out that it isn’t working to make oil more secure or to allow Iraqis to rebuild a stable country, the Army will have recovered and can be redeployed in force.”
1. Les Roberts, et al., “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq,” The Lancet, October 29, 2004.
UPDATE BY DAHR JAMAIL
Eleven days after this story about the lack of reportage in the corporate media about the U.S. military’s increasing use of air power in Iraq, the Washington Post ran a story about how U.S. air strikes were taking an increasing toll on civilians. Aside from that story, the Washington Post, along with the New York Times, remain largely mute on the issue, despite the fact that the U.S. use of air strikes in Iraq has now become the norm rather than being used in contingencies, as they were in the first year of the occupation. Needless to say, corporate media television coverage has remained the same as it did prior to the publishing of this story—they prefer to portray a U.S. occupation of Iraq sans warplanes dropping bombs in civilian neighborhoods.
This story remains a critical issue when one evaluates the occupation of Iraq, for the number of civilians dying, now possibly as high as 300,000 according to Les Roberts, one of the authors of the famous Lancet Report, only continues to escalate. This is, of course, due in large part to U.S. war planes and helicopters dropping bombs and missiles into urban areas in various Iraqi cities.
It is also important when one looks at the fact that more than 82 percent of Iraqis now vehemently oppose the occupation, because one of the biggest recruiting tools for the Iraqi resistance is U.S. bombs and missiles killing the innocent. Years from now when a corporate media outlet decides to break down and acknowledge that the level of anti-American sentiment in Iraq is as high (or higher) than it is anywhere in the world, and asks the mindless question, “Why do they hate us?” one will only need to look towards the indiscriminate use of air power on the Iraqi population.
This story was not difficult to write for two reasons: the first was that any reporter in Iraq with eyes and ears knows there is a vast amount of air power being projected by the U.S. military. Secondly, thanks to the Internet, statistics on sorties are readily available to anyone willing to look. Googling “CENTAF” brings up several “Air Power Summary” reports, where one is able to find how many missions, and what type, are being flown each month in Iraq, as well as other countries.
To monitor the number of Iraqi civilians being killed by these missions, along with other deaths caused by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Iraqi Mortality Survey published in the prestigious British Lancet medical journal, albeit eighteen months out of date and a highly conservative estimate by the authors admission, remains by far and away the most accurate to date.
One thing is for certain, and that is the longer the failed U.S. occupation of Iraq persists, the more U.S. air power will be used—a scenario that closely resembles that of the shameful Vietnam War.