A Policy of Collateral Damage

A troop drawdown in Iraq could mean more civilian casualties

| January 19, 2006

On January 13, the US military added another notch to its bombing bedpost with an air attack on a small village in Pakistan that apparently killed 18 civilians. In what looks like an attempt to kill al-Qaida's No. 2 man, the military launched massive missiles on houses in the Bajaur region of Pakistan. Amidst the international uproar over the incident, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) defended the bombing on the grounds that 'this war on terror has no boundaries.' 'We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out.' But nation-states do have boundaries, and Pakistani citizens and officials are outraged by the attack.

The incident illustrates the United States' policy of bombing from the sky and letting the chips (and bodies) fall where they may. As Seymour Hersh reports in the December 5 issue of The New Yorker, the US military now seems to be relying on drawing down troop numbers on the ground while shifting focus to its air assault capabilities. While that may gladden the parents of those in the service, it should strike fear in the hearts of Iraqis, as Michael Schwartz writes in TomDispatch: 'The new American strategy, billed as a way to de-escalate the war, is actually a formula for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.'

Air assaults, though they may be accompanied by words such as 'precision' and 'laser-guided,' have proved astonishingly effective at producing mayhem and civilian casualties in Iraq and now in Pakistan. The point, Schwartz claims, is that 'this mayhem was not a matter of dumb munitions, human error, carelessness, or gratuitous brutality. It was policy.' And while Hersh quotes aerospace analyst Andrew Brookes as saying that '[r]eplacing boots on the ground with airpower didn't work in Vietnam,' there seems to be no indication of a policy change. Schwartz suggests that the Bush administration, for its part, seems content to tinker with the deadly calculus of 'trading lower American casualties and stronger support domestically for ever lessening Iraqi support and the ever greater hostility such attacks bring in their wake.'

Go there >>A Formula for Slaughter

Go there too >> 18 Killed in Pakistan Air Strike

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