Airpower in IraqArticles by Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker are heavy on unnamed sources, but they are usually interesting, at least because they are controversial. In his latest -- "Up in the Air: Where is the Iraq war headed next?" -- he talks about concerns by the US Air Force over a possible shift to air power in Iraq as compensation for withdrawal of ground troops.
Various plans have been drawn up by military planners for withdrawal of various numbers of US troops in Iraq. That doesn't will it will definitely happen; it's just that like the Boy Scouts, the military wants to be prepared for anything. Sources in Hersh's article say that one thing these various withdrawal plans have in common is the increased use of airpower.
But with fewer US troops on the ground, would the Iraqi forces be trustworthy enough to do the targeting? Precision-guided weapons can be superbly accurate, but whether a target is successfully eliminated requires much more than just hitting the spot aimed for; it requires knowing where to target in the first place.
Here's an excerpt from the article:
Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”
“It’s a serious business,” retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. “The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else.” (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)
Such issues underscore the importance of intelligence gathering for effective military operations, no matter how advanced weaponry may be, and that intelligence isn't just about collecting a bunch of photos or documents together -- it means a human mind evaluating that information and deciding what it all means. Computers and machines continue to improve, but they can't totally automate war.