Attrition: How Soon We Forget

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July 17, 2007: Afghans are complaining that the United States is too quick to use aerial bombing. There are too many civilians being killed. Some 200 were killed by smart bombs (the only kind used these days) during the first six months of this year. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. made its largest application of air power in history. More bombs were dropped (6.7 million tons, nearly 15 million bombs) during the period of American participation (1965-72) than they did during World War II (2.5 million tons). Only about 30,000 smart bombs were used in Vietnam (two tenths of a percent of all bombs).

Overall, some 4,000 bombs a day dropped on Vietnam. In the first half of this year, U.S. aircraft dropped an average of 2.4 bombs a day in Afghanistan. OK, there were, on average, ten times as many troops (South Vietnamese, U.S. and allied) in Vietnam, compared to the Afghan, American and NATO force in Afghanistan. Even after making that adjustment, there were 170 times as many bombs dropped in Vietnam than in Afghanistan. During the Vietnam war, there were nearly 2,000 deaths per day, compared to less than ten a day in Afghanistan. The U.S. Air Force and Navy have spent a lot of money and effort in the last three decades to limit civilian casualties to bomb attacks. That success has largely been ignored. On the plus side, American air forces have also managed to reduce their own losses. During the Vietnam war, between one and two fixed wing aircraft were lost each day. During the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been no warplanes lost to enemy action, and only a few to accidents.

 


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