Afghan Air War: More Firefights, Fewer Airstrikes

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BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Despite a dramatic increase in the tempo of fighting across Afghanistan this summer, U.S. attack jets are dropping significantly fewer bombs on enemy insurgents, according to Air Force data.
At the same time, U.S. aircraft are flying record numbers of combat sorties each day to try to locate insurgents, track their movements, listen in on their conversations and work with U.S. ground troops to close in on them. In many cases, when American troops engaged in firefights call for overhead fighters to attack the enemy, it now falls to the pilots to ask, in essence, “Well, isn’t there another way to resolve this problem?”

Increasingly, in what pilots say is an effective tactic, jets swoop down low over the insurgents, causing them to break contact and scatter. The new approach stems from a directive by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who became the top commander in Afghanistan in June, to make protection of civilians a top priority. He ordered that air-dropped munitions, which have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, be used only in “very limited and prescribed conditions” – conditions that he has declined to specify publicly.
In effect, McChrystal’s directive makes the pilots the “voice of reason” – even in the middle of a firefight.


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