In bid to break Taliban, US embraces more firepower

The US military has dramatically stepped up air strikes in Afghanistan in a bid to weaken the Taliban.

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2010, 15:06 PM IST

Washington: The US military has dramatically stepped up air strikes and manhunts in Afghanistan in a bid to weaken the Taliban, reflecting a return to "counter-terrorism" tactics.

Dropping more bombs and carrying out more raids by special operations forces underscores a sense of urgency in the war effort, as the White House prepares to release a strategy review and commanders try to change the dynamic of a conflict mired in stalemate.

In announcing a surge of 30,000 troops a year ago, President Barack Obama embraced the idea of a "counter-insurgency" strategy that focused less on firefights with the Taliban and more on securing key towns, training Afghan forces and bolstering local government.

But the need to cut off the insurgency`s supply routes to sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan has led to a renewed emphasis on more conventional "targeting" operations, said General James Cartwright, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"When we started, we probably were more aligned with counterinsurgency (strategy). The emphasis is shifting," Cartwright said last week.

"We need to reduce those lines of communication and reduce that flow to the best of our abilities," Cartwright said at an event at the National Press Club.

The balance of the US force was "starting to shift to have an element of counter-terrorism larger than we thought we were going to need when we started," he said.

The expansion of counter-terrorism raids also appears to fit in with the need to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table, as US military leaders have long stated that the insurgents must sense they are losing ground on the battlefield before they engage in genuine peace talks.
The previous commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, scaled back air strikes and artillery to try to reduce civilian casualties, but his successor, General David Petraeus, has taken a more aggressive approach.

US aircraft flew 850 combat sorties in November, three times the number for the same month last year, according to the US Air Force.

From January to the end of November, warplanes carried out 30,000 close air support missions for troops on the ground, a 13 percent increase compared with the whole of 2009, it said.
In the past six months, coalition forces have carried out more than 7,000 special operations missions, killing or capturing more than 600 militant leaders and inflicting heavy losses on insurgent fighters, with 2,000 rank and file soldiers killed, the NATO-led force told The Long War Journal.

Bureau Report