Bombing Campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan

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U.S. Intensified Bombing Campaigns in
Iraq and Afghanistan Breed Fear and Hatred
columnist Conn Hallinan,
conducted by Scott Harris
Interview with Foreign Policy in Focus
In one of the largest airstrikes since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, American warplanes dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad Jan. 10. The targets were suspected al Qaeda positions near citrus groves around the town of Arab Jabour. In November, leaders of a Sunni Arab militia group allied with the U.S. reported American bombs killed 45 members of their group, when they were mistaken for al Qaeda fighters. In October, 15 women and children were killed when U.S. planes attacked a suspected enemy position in the Lake Thar Thar region northwest of Baghdad.

The Associated Press reported that there has been a five-fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007, coinciding with President Bush's troop escalation. More than 30 tons of the ordinance dropped have been cluster weapons, which take an especially heavy toll on civilians.

Afghanistan has also endured an intensification of U.S. and NATO airstrikes which has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of civilians killed. In mid-2007, Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a press conference to condemn what he called the "careless operations of NATO and international forces" that he asserted was killing innocent victims.

Listen in RealAudio
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Conn Hallinan, who examines the U.S. military's bombing tactics and how the resulting civilian casualties exacerbate hostility toward occupation forces.

CONN HALLINAN: One of the things that's happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that there's been an enormous step-up in the airwar. There's been a five-fold increase in the air war over the last year in Iraq; there's been a two-fold increase in Afghanistan, but there was a 20-fold increase in the year before. So, what we're seeing is enormous stepped-up air operations. And those air operations result in large numbers of civilian casualties. In Afghanistan, it's reached the point where the NATO forces are asking the Americans to stop the air attacks, because they're creating such hostility on the ground. And in the case of Iraq, the number of civilian casualties is rising steadily.

The air war is largely a result of the fact that we don't have enough troops; there's no way we can get enough troops, so we're relying on air power. And we can all talk about things like surgical strikes, but you know, a thousand-pound bomb from 30,000 feet –- even laser-guided –- hits a village, it's hardly surgery, at least not the kind that you'd want someone to take a piece of your appendix out with, anyhow.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Conn, we recently heard the United States Air Force dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on the outskirts of Baghdad. Maybe just as an example of what you're talking about, what do we know about that bombardment and the resulting casualties?

CONN HALLINAN: Well, it's really in some ways, somewhat of a shift in tactics. There are three kinds of bombings that we do. One is what they call strategic bombing, and that's what we did in Afghanistan –- which is that we basically didn't have any troops in Afghanistan. What we did was, we just went over the country and we flattened everything. It's a kind of a bombing that you sort of think of in World War II -- long-range, strategic kind of bombing.

And then the other kind of bombing is this tactical bombing, where you have a unit and you call in an airstrike because you happen to be in a place where you suddenly get ambushed or you get outnumbered and you call in airstrikes to help out the troops on the ground.

But the kind of huge amount of bombs that were dropped on Baghdad –- this is what they call "shaping the battlefield." And that's actually the term that was used by the Pentagon. It doesn't involve troops. What we do is, we go in, we have intelligence -- as you know, our intelligence in Iraq has been so good over the years –- we have intelligence that there are insurgents in this area, or al Qaeda or something like that. We shape the battlefield by bringing in B1 bombers, F-16s, some of these robot airplanes like the Predator and the Reaper, that kind of stuff. And we just flatten one of these villages. Now, we probably do kill insurgents. We also kill everybody else that's in the village. All of those people are members of klans, they're all members of tribes. We've just signed a blood feud with all those people that were killed.

A lot of times, this shaping of the battlefield ends up killing our own people. This kind of bombing is the worst kind of thing that you can possibly do if you have any interest in winning hearts and minds --and we simply have given up on winning hearts and minds -- and the idea is that we're going to terrorize the population with a bombing campaign. It never worked before. Bombing campaigns have never worked to terrorize a population. Take World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War -- even the Kosovo War, in which the Serbs gave up for reasons that didn't really have to do the with bombing. Bombing just makes people angry, and they are angry at you. They're angry at us and it tends to drive people together, it doesn't tend to intimidate them, it just makes them very, very angry.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Conn Hallinan, in your article, "Death at a Distance: The U.S. Air War," you wrote about the possibility of the prosecution of war crimes here, by our nation, in terms of these bombardments, some of which have killed dozens or hundreds of civilians.

CONN HALLINAN: Well, you know, one of the things that the Geneva Conventions are absolutely clear on is that if you have a target, which is a mixed target -- that is, you have enemy soldiers, or insurgents, and you have a civilian population –- you have to treat the target as civilian. Now, how do you prosecute a war crime? The United States doesn't even recognize the war crimes court at The Hague. But it doesn't mean that this isn't going to come back to haunt us. So it comes back to haunt us by undermining international law. It comes back to haunt us, by creating, sowing a whole generation of people who hate the United States. I think it does that. I think it also creates a terrible situation for our own soldiers and there are going to be consequences for that, and they're going to be years down the line.

Hallinan is former director of the journalism program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Read his articles online at

Related links on our website at

"Death at a Distance: The U.S. Air War," by Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus

Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Feb. 1, 2008. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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