Saturday, March 10, 2007

The air wars, Mar. 1 - Mar. 7

For the first seven days of March, the Air Force reports 309 "close-air-support" missions flown in Afghanistan and 315 in Iraq (American USAF and British RAF combined).

I've posted at various times on the Air Force's daily report of combat missions flown in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first week in March, I've been adding up the number of missions flown, according to the various articles at Air Force Link.

My purpose in posting about these reports is to show some of the little information that is being made public about the air war in both countries and also as a reminder that because of the extremely poor security conditions in Iraq, the journalists there are scarcely able to cover these actions in anything like an adequate way.

In some ways, the fact that Air Force Link is providing some of the most comprehensive information available on this is amazing in itself. Especially since most of the other stories there are thoroughly forgettable boilerplate, the kind of stuff you would expect in an unimaginative small-town weekly paper. My guess is that the Air Force wants to make sure they are reminding whoever they can of the role they are playing and how useful they are even in a counterinsurgency war. Maybe that's why one recent report is titled, March 10 airpower: ISR missions critical in war on terrorism.

A few of things to keep in mind about these reports. They are releases from the Air Force and are not reports vetted by independent journalists. The missions on which the reports focus are described as "close-air-support missions", which include reconaissance in support of ground troops. Only a few individual missions are described, nor do the reports tell how many of those missions included the use of bombs or other ordinance by the planes. When the location of a mission is mentioned, they are typically described as "near" such-and-such a place; I don't recall ever seeing one record a bombing "in" as city, though many of the missions sound like they are against urban targets. Oddly, the stories are headlined as one day later than the text reports; the report headlined "March 10", for instance, reports on missions flown on March 9. Finally, the totals given for both Afghanistan and Iraq include the British RAF; the American and British totals are not given separately.

Various missions are described as follows.

March 1:

A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet dropped a GBU-38 on a suspected mortar tube against the side of a building near FOB Robinson. The JTAC confirmed the weapon hit the desired target.
March 2:

Other F-16s were assigned reconnaissance in an area near Fallujah. A JTAC member passed the location of a targeted individual who was hiding in a hole in the vicinity. The F-16s dropped GBU-12s, though the target was not struck.
This is a good example of why more independent reporting is needed on the air wars. The GBU-12 is a 500-lb. laser-guided warhead. They fired it to get one guy hiding in a hole - and missed him. This was "near" Fallujah. Was this a hole out in a field somewhere? Or was it in the middle of a populated urban area? And I've got to wonder how many F-16s are being used to drop 500-lb. warheads to get one guy. Let's take it for granted that the F-16 crew had accurate information that this guy was a an enemy guerrilla.

March 3:B-1s making presence known:

In Afghanistan March 3, a B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s and GBU-38s on anti-coalition insurgents in an open area near Kajaki. A joint terminal attack controller confirmed direct hits, removing the insurgent threat.
According to, "The Joint Direct Attack Munition designated GBU-31 is a 2,000-pound class munition guided by an $18,000 tail kit."

March 4:

In Afghanistan yesterday [Mar. 4], an Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s on a building near Sangin containing anti-coalitioninsurgents. A joint terminal attack controller confirmed a direct hit. The B-1B also provided two shows of force, releasing multiple flares and bundles of chaff in the same area with successful results reported by the JTAC.
In this case, at least two of the "2,000-pound class munition guided by an $18,000 tail kit" were dropped "near" Sangin.

In Iraq, an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon dropped a GBU-38, destroying a concrete building near Baghdad known to contain a weapons cache.
The GBU-38 is a 500-lb. bomb, dropped "near" Baghdad.

March 5:

In Iraq, Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons dropped guided bomb unit-38s, destroying an anti-Iraqi insurgent building near Mosul.
March 6:

[In Afghanistan] Other Navy F/A-18s dropped GBU-12s and GBU-38s on two separate anti-coalition insurgent buildings near Sangin. All weapons hit the desired target as confirmed by a JTAC. Other F/A-18s also dropped GBU-12s and GBU-38s on enemy forces in a wooded area and another enemy building near Sangin.
March 7:

In Afghanistan March 7, a B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s and GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions on enemy personnel and a building near Garmsir, in support of Operation Achilles. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller and ground forces observed direct hits.

Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided close-air support for coalition forces near Garmsir. The F-15Es fired cannon rounds on enemy forces in the open, dropped GBU-12s and GBU-38s on buildings known to contain enemy forces and on buildings where insurgents hid after initial air strikes.
I hope we don't have to wait until the end of these wars to get reliable accounts of how significant the air war has been and what it's real effects are.

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