Thursday, March 10, 2011

Strategic Aerial Warfare: Pakistan

From the Newsweek story: Inside the Killing Machine

It was an ordinary-looking room located in an office building in northern Virginia. The place was filled with computer monitors, keyboards, and maps. Someone sat at a desk with his hand on a joystick. John A. Rizzo, who was serving as the CIA’s acting general counsel, hovered nearby, along with other people from the agency. Together they watched images on a screen that showed a man and his family traveling down a road thousands of miles away. The vehicle slowed down, and the man climbed out.

A moment later, an explosion filled the screen, and the man was dead. “It was very businesslike,” says Rizzo. An aerial drone had killed the man, a high-level terrorism suspect, after he had gotten out of the vehicle, while members of his family were spared. “The agency was very punctilious about this,” Rizzo says. “They tried to minimize collateral damage, especially women and children.”

Such is the nature of Obama's drone war in Pakistan. The selectivity of killing only the suspected terrorists rather than their whole family or village seems humane somehow, but it also doesn't seem to work. It's part of an old familiar story. Air power has repeatedly proven its decisive effect in support of ground troops, but Air Forces fell in love with the idea of strategic bombing in World War II.

Thus the Germans pounded British cities, and Britain and the US later returned the favor with interest, but when the results were analyzed the strategic effectiveness was slight. We heard the same story in Vietnam - all we need to do is multiply the amount of ordinance by some large number and it would work. Again in Iraq, shock and awe was supposed to do the job. The result was always the same - the air war proved far more effective at pissing people off than at weakening their will or ability to fight.

The UAV is a far more selective weapon, but the results don't seem any different. The net result has been to greatly strengthen the Pakistani elements most hostile to the United States.