The U.S. QAir Force has been stepping up operations in Iraq in responce to the proposed "troop withdrawl"... Reader be warned these are Very Long Articles
- From: djs965@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 15 Jul 2007 16:38:43 -0700
Air Force Quietly Building Iraq Presence
By Charles J. Hanley
The Associated Press
Saturday 14 July 2007
Balad Air Base, Iraq - Away from the headlines and debate over the
"surge" in U.S. ground troops, the Air Force has quietly built up its
hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation
for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.
Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country
fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year.
The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.
The escalation worries some about an increase in "collateral
damage," casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry
about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly
like what they see.
"Night before last we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night
we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said
approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a
recent offensive south of Baghdad.
Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437
bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold
increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times
more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In
June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.
Inside spacious, air-conditioned "Kingpin," a new air traffic
control center at this huge Air Force hub 50 miles north of Baghdad,
the expanded commitment can be seen on the central display screen:
Small points of light represent more than 100 aircraft crisscrossing
Iraqi air space at any one time.
The increased air activity has paralleled the reinforcement of
U.S. ground troops, beginning in February, to try to suppress the
insurgency and sectarian violence in the Baghdad region. Simply
keeping those 30,000 additional troops supplied has added to demands
on the Air Force.
"We're the busiest aerial port in DOD (Department of Defense),"
said Col. Dave
Reynolds, a mission support commander here. Working 12-hour shifts,
his cargo handlers are expected to move 140,000 tons of cargo this
year, one-third more than in 2006, he said.
The greatest impact of the "air surge" has come in close air
support for Army and Marine operations.
Early this year, with little fanfare, the Air Force sent a
squadron of A-10 "Warthog" attack planes - a dozen or more aircraft -
to be based at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. At the same time it
added a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons here at Balad. Although
some had flown missions over Iraq from elsewhere in the region, the
additions doubled to 50 or more the number of workhorse fighter-bomber
jets available at bases inside the country, closer to the action.
The reinforcement involved more than numbers. The new F-16Cs were
the first of the advanced "Block 50" version to fly in Iraq, an
aircraft whose technology includes a cockpit helmet that enables the
pilot to aim his weapons at a target simply by turning his head and
looking at it.
The Navy has contributed by stationing a second aircraft carrier
in the Persian Gulf, and the reintroduction of B1-Bs has added a close-
at-hand "platform" capable of carrying 24 tons of bombs.
Those big bombers were moved last year from distant Diego Garcia
in the Indian Ocean to an undisclosed base in the Persian Gulf. Since
February, with the ground offensive, they have gone on Iraq bombing
runs for the first time since the 2003 invasion.
As chronicled in the Air Force's daily summaries, more and more
pilots are getting the "cleared hot" clearance for bombing runs,
usually with 500-pound bombs. In recent Army operations north of
Baghdad, for example, Air Force planes have struck "factories" for
makeshift bombs, weapons caches uncovered by ground troops and, in one
instance, "several houses insurgents were using as fire positions."
Iraq Body Count, a London-based, anti-war research group that
monitors Iraqi war deaths, says the step-up in air attacks appears to
have been accompanied by an increase in Iraqi civilian casualties from
air strikes. Based on media reports, it counts a recent average of 50
such deaths per month.
The Air Force itself does not maintain such data.
The demand for air support is heavy. On one recent day, at a
briefing attended by a reporter, it was noted that 48 requests for air
support were filled, but 16 went unmet.
"There are times when the Army wishes we had more jets," said
F-16C pilot Lt. Col. Steve Williams, commander of the 13th
Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a component of Balad's 379th Air
In addition, the Air Force is performing more "ISR" work in Iraq -
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "We have probably come
close to doubling our ISR platforms the past 12 months," said Col.
Gary Crowder, a deputy air operations chief for the Central Command.
Those proliferating reconnaissance platforms include Predator
drones, high-flying U2s and AWACS, the technology-packed airborne
warning and control aircraft, three of which returned to the Persian
Gulf in April after three years' absence.
The F-16Cs and other attack planes also do surveillance work with
their targeting cameras, keeping watch on convoy routes, for example.
By Oct. 1, Crowder said, all squadrons will have "ROVER" capability,
able to download real-time aerial video to the laptop computers of
troops on the ground - showing them, in effect, what's around the next
"They love it. It's like having a security camera wherever you
want it," said Col. Joe Guastella, the Air Force's regional operations
Air Force engineers, meanwhile, are improving this centrally
located home base, which supports some 10,000 air operations per
The weaker of Balad's two 11,000-foot runways was reinforced - for
five to seven years' more hard use. The engineers next will build
concrete "overruns" at the runways' ends. Balad's strategic ramp, the
concrete parking lot for its biggest planes, was expanded last fall.
The air traffic control system is to be upgraded again with the latest
"We'd like to get it to be a field like Langley, if you will,"
said mission support chief Reynolds, referring to the Air Force
showcase base in Virginia.
The Air Force has flown over Iraq for many years, having enforced
"no-fly zones" with the Navy in 1991-2003, banning Iraqi aircraft from
northern and southern areas of this country. Today, too, it takes a
long view: Many expect the Army to draw down its Iraq forces by 2009,
but the Air Force is planning for a continued conflict in which it
supports Iraqi troops.
"Until we can determine that the Iraqis have got their air force
to sufficient capability, I think the coalition will be here to
support that effort," Lt. Gen. Gary North, overall regional air
commander, said in an interview. The new Iraqi air force thus far
fields only a handful of transports and reconnaissance aircraft - no
North also echoed a common theme in today's Air Force: Some of the
U.S. planes are too old. Some of his KC-135 air-refueling tankers date
from 1956. Heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan is cracking the wings of
some A-10s, the Air Force says.
"We are burning these airplanes out," North said. "Our A-10s and
our F-16s are rapidly becoming legacy systems."
If the equipment is under strain, it doesn't appear the personnel
The Air Force's four-month Iraq tours and extensive use of
volunteer pilots from the Reserve and National Guard contrast sharply
with an Army whose 15-month tours are sapping energy and morale.
In the Air Force, Iraq duty can even be cut to two months. Lt.
Col. Bob Mortensen's 457th Fighter Squadron - F-16Cs from Fort Worth,
Texas - managed it by working a deal with another Reserve unit to
share one four-month rotation.
How much longer can these flyers answer the call?
"As many times as we're asked," Mortensen said.
Z Magazine Online
June 2007 Volume 20 Number 6
The Secret Air Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Jeff Nygaard
A relentless attack from the air against Iraq and Afghanistan has been
going on for years, with the United States conducting an average of 75
to 100 airstrikes in the 2 countries every day. The death toll from
these attacks is unknown, but a reasonable estimate is in the range of
100,000 to 150,000 in Iraq, with the number in Afghanistan as yet
unexplored. Yet the story of these air wars is almost unknown in the
United States. Without access to Iraqi or Afghani sources, it is not
possible to offer firsthand accounts of the consequences of the air
wars, but it is possible to go to some available sources to get a
glimpse of what is happening.
Every day the U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) posts on the
Internet a public report of their activities. Who knows if these
reports are true or accurate, but let's say they are. They're pretty
horrifying, despite the heroic self-serving language.
For example, a headline from the summary of March 13: "Air Controllers
Direct Airpower Symphony over Iraq" and "Air Force Continues Giving
100 Percent." These are standard puff pieces that one would expect
from a public relations office and, presumably, they are produced to
maintain morale among active and retired military personnel who seem
to be the primary audience. Unfortunately, these stories become the
grist for the "news stories" on Iraq and Afghanistan that we see in
the daily press.
Leaving aside the blatant propaganda, the daily CENTAF "airpower
summaries," as they are called, bring a few things into focus about
the secret air component of U.S. operations. Here's a sample from the
week of March 3-9: "In Afghanistan this week 330 close-air-support
missions were flown in support of the International Security
Assistance Force and Afghan troops...." Meanwhile, "In Iraq this week,
coalition aircraft flew 327 close-air-support missions for Operation
Iraqi Freedom." A "Close-Air-Support" mission, or CAS, is the term
used for "Dropping bombs in support of ground troops-also known as an
In other words, according to the Air Force's own numbers, the U.S.
during that particular week conducted an average of 93 airstrikes per
day in the two countries. For the following week the total was 614
strikes or 87 per day. The week of March 17-23 saw 753 strikes or 107
per day. In the only substantial report to be found in this country in
the past year on the air war-"Bombs over Baghdad; The Pentagon's
Secret Air War in Iraq" at the online news source TomDispatch-author
Nick Turse reminds us that these numbers include only the air assaults
conducted by the Air Force. They "do not include guided missiles and
unguided rockets fired, or cannon rounds expended; nor, according to a
CENTAF spokesperson, do they take into account the munitions used by
some Marine Corps and other coalition aircraft or any of the Army's
helicopter gunships. Moreover, they do not include munitions used by
the armed helicopters of the many private security contractors flying
their own missions in Iraq." "Private security contractors" is the
current euphemism for mercenary soldiers.
The Air Force uses the same words to describe these air strikes: The
CAS "missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure
protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and
disrupt terrorist activities." One will almost never see the words
"killed" or "casualties" in these reports, with a couple of
exceptions, to which I will return.
Seven Unreported Airstrikes
During the one-week period of March 3-9 (dates that were randomly
selected), the U.S. Air Force reported a total of 327 British/U.S.
airstrikes in Iraq and 330 in Afghanistan. Here are some examples of
incidents reported in the official Air Forces Daily Airpower Summary,
each followed by the same one-word summary of how they were covered in
March 3, 41 airstrikes in Afghanistan: "In Afghanistan March 3, a B-1B
Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s and GBU-38s on anti-coalition
insurgents in an open area near Kajaki. A joint terminal attack
controller (JTAC) confirmed direct hits, removing the insurgent
March 4, 41 airstrikes in Afghanistan: "In Afghanistan, an Air
Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s on a building near
Sangin containing anti-coalition insurgents. A joint terminal attack
controller confirmed a direct hit." Unreported.
March 5, 45 airstrikes in Iraq: "In Iraq, Air Force F-16 Fighting
Falcons dropped guided bomb unit-38s, destroying an anti-Iraqi
insurgent building near Mosul." Unreported.
March 6, 54 airstrikes in Afghanistan: "Near Sangin, Navy F/A- 18s
received coordinates for a compound where enemy fire was originating.
One of the F/A-18s dropped a guided bomb unit-12 on the compound. A
JTAC reported a good hit with an unusually large initial explosion and
at least ten secondary explosions, possibly indicating destruction of
a weapons cache." Unreported.
March 7, 57 airstrikes in Afghanistan: "In Afghanistan a B-1B
Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s and GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack
Munitions on enemy personnel and a building near Garmsir, in support
of Operation Achilles. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller
and ground forces observed direct hits." Unreported.
March 8, 50 airstrikes in Iraq: "Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons
conducted a pre-planned strike, dropping GBU-31s on a major two-lane
road near As Sadah. This engagement was meant to hamper traffic coming
in and out of As Sadah City from the north. The strike was
March 9, 45 airstrikes in Iraq: "Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs
fired cannon rounds at enemies hiding in brush after they engaged with
coalition forces near Mahmudiyah. A JTAC reported the cannon rounds
were on target." Unreported.
The above research was conducted in mid-March and a check of the
nation's media for the week ending March 15 did not yield a single
reference to U.S. airstrikes in English-language newspapers. This
typical week in the U.S. press includes the wire services, National
Public Radio, and everywhere else in the daily media.
The Example of Taji
There are a couple of exceptions to the policy of never using the
words "killed" or "casualties" in the official reports on U.S.
"airpower" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first exception is when a U.S.
airstrike is reported as having killed "terrorists." These sorts of
reports are often picked up by the corporate media. Here is how one
such incident on March 2 in the town of Taji, Iraq was covered in the
corporate press. I first learned about this particular airstrike in a
report in the official Air Force News (March 7) under the headline
"Air Strikes Target, Kill al-Qaeda Terrorists near Taji, Iraq." As it
turns out, we don't really know that they were "terrorists" or that
they had anything to do with al-Qaeda. The article says that,
"Coalition forces believe key terrorists were killed during the
airstrike." The article points out that the targets in Taji were
vehicles and anti-aircraft artillery, which were in "an area known for
terrorist activities." CENTAF reports that, "The strike resulted in
the destruction of the vehicle as well as the structure it was parked
beside." What structure was that? Someone's home, perhaps? An office
building? A hospital? Were there people inside? Was it deserted? We'll
Unlike the other 67 officially reported U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and
Afghanistan that day, the Taji incident did receive some coverage in
the U.S. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles
Times dutifully quoted the claim that CENTAF believes "key terrorists"
were killed in the strike.
The NYT reported, "Military authorities on [March 3] were still
investigating the identities of the gunmen and how many men were
killed." This phrasing implies that the only people who may have been
killed were men, in fact gunmen. Never considered is the possibility
that civilians might have been killed. This despite the Air Force's
own reporting that a "structure" was destroyed, which should at least
be worth an inquiry, one might think.
How about the claim that Taji is "an area known for terrorist
activities?" Well, Iraqis certainly may consider it so. The LA Times
mentions (in a 76-word brief at the end of an article about something
else) that Taji is "the site of a major U.S. air base." The Times
doesn't say how "major" it is, but it's pretty major. Taji is one of
the 14 "enduring" bases that the U.S. has constructed in Iraq. As
such, it is a symbol of the U.S. project of maintaining a more-or-less
permanent military presence in that country. Taji is the home of the
"largest PX in Iraq, which has a Subway, Burger King, and Pizza Hut."
In addition, according to the military think-tank GlobalSecurity.org,
some portion of "the $18.4 billion appropriated by the U.S. Congress
to support the reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure" has gone into
"building renovation; renovation and construction of medical
facilities; repair of a wastewater treatment plant, and installation
of sewage distribution lines" at Camp Taji.
So when the Washington Post reports that Taji is "an area where
several American helicopters have been shot down in recent weeks,"
some Iraqis might reasonably see this not as terror, but as a response
to terror. That's surely not what the Air Force public affairs office
meant when they referred to Taji as "an area known for terrorist
activities," but such is "news" in the upside-down world of war
The "official version" of the events of March 2 is this: the
"coalition" attacked the "area" from which military officials
"believe" some "terrorists," reported to be members of al-Qaeda who
are "responsible for threats to coalition aircraft," have been
launching attacks against the "anti-terrorists." Here's how the same
story might appear when looked at from another perspective: The
world's most powerful country invades and occupies a sovereign nation,
a nation so weak that it poses no serious threat to the superpower.
The weaker nation is devastated and resistance to the occupation
arises. After some years, the resistance acquires the capacity to
respond, with limited success, to some of the violence of the
occupation. Since a large part of the violence against the population
is coming from airstrikes, the resistance includes anti-aircraft
tactics and weapons.
The Grisly Arithmetic of the Air War
U.S. casualties are regularly reported by the Air Force, as in this
story from March 5: "Air Force Heroes: 20 Fallen Airmen Honored in
Afghanistan." University of New Hampshire economist Marc Herold
estimates that between 4,851 and 5,684 civilians have died in
Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001, or roughly 900-1,000 per
year. Herold admits that these numbers are only the ones that can be
verified and as such remain "a gross underestimate." In a graphic
illustration of how the ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan has
fallen out of the public consciousness, Herold's numbers remain
unpublished in this country and have only found publication in the
January 13 issue of the Indian magazine the Hindu.
Reports in the daily press on civilian deaths in Iraq are far more
common, but only certain deaths appear to be newsworthy. The New York
Times published a report on the violence in Iraq on March 19, the
fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of that country, saying,
"While no single event stood out [on the anniversary], the day was in
many ways emblematic of the violence that Iraqis suffer daily-two car
bombs, several assassinations, at least one kidnapping and a number of
other bombings." In the world as seen by the Times, "the violence that
Iraqis suffer daily" apparently does not include the 67 airstrikes
that the Air Force reports were conducted in Iraq on Monday, March
Looking outside this blind spot, the 2006 report "Mortality After the
2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-sectional Cluster Sample Survey" from
the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, published in the October
2006 issue of the British medical journal the Lancet, remains the best
estimate of the number of people who have died in Iraq-violently and
otherwise-as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
As Nick Turse tells us in "Bombs Over Baghdad," the Lancet report
"estimated 655,000 'excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.'
The study...found that from March 2003 to June 2006, 13 percent of
violent deaths in Iraq were caused by coalition air strikes. If the
655,000 figure, including over 601,000 violent deaths, is anywhere
close to accurate-and the study offered a possible range of civilian
deaths that ran from 392,979 to 942,636-this would equal approximately
78,133 Iraqis killed by bombs, missiles, rockets, or cannon rounds
from coalition aircraft between March 2003, when the invasion of Iraq
began, and last June when the study concluded." Turse adds that,
"According to statistics provided to TomDispatch by the Lancet study's
authors, 50 percent of all violent deaths of Iraqi children under 15
years of age, between March 2003 and June 2006, were due to coalition
Here, then, are the final rough numbers: Every day, between 50 and 100
Iraqis die as a result of "coalition" airstrikes. Every airstrike
kills, on average, one Iraqi, and wounds three more. Updating the
numbers from the Lancet study, we discover that overall, since the
U.S. invaded Iraq, somewhere between 102,180 and 147,051 Iraqis have
been killed by U.S. airstrikes alone. Between 306,540 and 441,153 have
On the last Saturday in March, according to the Air Force, 111
airstrikes were launched by the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The Friday before that, 107. On Thursday, 118. This
"airpower symphony" will go on until activists and other citizens
understand how one of the "lessons of Vietnam" is being applied here.
A February poll of Americans taken by the Associated Press showed,
"The median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890." That is, the guess of
about half of the poll respondents as to the number of Iraqis killed
since Operation Iraqi Freedom began is at most about 2 percent of the
actual number. Their guess is maybe 10 percent of the number killed by
U.S. bombs, in an air war that most respondents have likely never
Attempts to conceal wartime realities are standard and predictable on
the part of a government engaged in an unpopular military campaign.
This is why it is so crucial to have an independent and skeptical
press that will go beyond reporting the statements of officials to do
a little investigating of the "hideous aspects" that are being
screened. As Turse reminds us, "While we will undoubtedly never know
the full extent of the human costs of the U.S. air campaign, just a
few dogged reporters assigned to the air-power beat might, at the very
least, have offered some sense of this one-sided air war."
With 75 to 100 airstrikes every day and 100,000 to 150,000 innocents
dead, could a state-run media do a better job of "screening from the
public gaze" the "hideous aspects" of the U.S. air wars in Iraq and
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