As violence in Afghanistan spirals even further out of control, the United States military is relying more and more on air power in combat situations. The number of air missions launched by the US is up 31% over last year, and these missions are taking an increasing toll on the Afghan civilian populace.
That 31% increase in strikes has led to a far greater increase in the Afghan civilian death toll. In the first seven months of this year coalition forces had already killed 577 civilians, the majority of them in air-strikes, which was a 21% increase over all of 2007. This figure doesn’t take into account the hundreds of civilians killed in such air-strikes since July, including 90 in a single late-August strike in Herat and at least 40 in a strike earlier this week.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been outspokenly critical of the growing US reliance on air strikes near populated areas, concerned that the civilian tolls are increasingly undermining his credibility as a leader. Most recently he has pressured President-elect Barack Obama to end the air strikes.
The United States has passed off the reports of large US-inflicted civilian casualties as “hype” from insurgents, and Brigadier General Michael Tucker says the best way to reduce reliance on air strikes is to “get more boots on the ground.”