August 17, 2011:
Last month, the number of air attacks in Afghanistan doubled, to 21 a day. Partly this is because a U.S. Marine Corps general has taken over a commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But mostly it’s because the United States has established a much improved intelligence and informant network throughout the key south Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. This is where most of the world opium and heroin supply comes from, and has been the main target of NATO military operations in the last year. Many Afghans, even in these two provinces, are fed up with the drug trade. The opium, being much cheaper than heroin, has turned over a million Afghans into addicts, and led to most families and tribes backing any effort that would diminish the drug gangs, and their hired guns (which includes many Taliban).
Despite the continued use of civilians as human shields, only 79 civilians have been killed in air attacks so far this year. That’s up 14 percent from last year, but it’s still a small number compared to how many people the Taliban kill (about 80 percent of civilian deaths). Civilians have learned to run when they sense nearby Taliban are seeking human shields, and NATO has become very good at stalking the Taliban, and then catching them when they are alone.
Smart bombs and guided missiles are the usual weapons employed by the bombers and UAVs. While the American UAVs operating over Pakistan get most of the media attention, there are even more UAVs operating over Afghanistan, although most of them do not carry missiles. There are always fighters or bombers available, in addition to helicopter gunships (armed with autocannon and Hellfire missiles) and AC-130 gunships (which are also using missile more). The A-10 ground attack aircraft is still very popular, because it is most effective for psychological warfare operations (like buzzing a Taliban position to scare gunmen into running, or a Taliban occupied village, to get the civilians out.)