Academic journal article Parameters

Airpower in COIN

Academic journal article Parameters

Airpower in COIN

Article excerpt

To the Editor:

There are only two problems with Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.'s article "Making Revolutionary Change: Airpower in COIN Today" (Parameters, Summer 2008): (1) He does not understand counterinsurgency (COIN) and (2) He does not understand airpower.

Essentially, his assertion that airpower "became critical to COIN operations in 2007" is based on Anthony Cordesman's December 2007 report which states that airstrikes in Iraq increased nearly fivefold between 2006 and 2007. General Dunlap explains this increase as being due to airpower's "precision and persistence revolutions." Effectively, he is intimating that if only we would have dropped more bombs, we could have achieved this reduction in violence years ago.

The glaring point General Dunlap continually misses is that without ground-derived intelligence, we would have no idea whom to target. Airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), while increasingly capable, is still largely unable to positively discern insurgent from civilian unless an attack on Coalition forces is in progress. Over-reliance on airborne ISR and kinetics puts the initiative into the enemy's hands. The insurgent decides when and where to reveal himself through an attack; we must wait until we "see" it to respond.

General Dunlap goes on to claim the increase in airstrikes is due to a shift in strategy, citing a 2008 Congressional Research Service report. The same report, two paragraphs later, reveals the true reason for the sharp increase:

   In January 2008, Major General Edgington [Multi-National Force-Iraq
   Air Component Coordination Element Director] explained that close
   air support [CAS]--or "on-call" support--is the type of kinetic
   airpower that has been most in demand in Iraq. Coordinated
   air/ground operations during the first several months after the
   arrival of the full surge force produced the heaviest CAS
   requirements, but afterward the demand tapered off. The
   significantly higher demand for CAS had been less a reflection of a
   deliberate strategy to use more airpower, than a natural result of
   a significantly larger number of US troops, working significantly
   more closely with Iraqi counterparts and in local neighborhoods,
   and getting better information that made target identification much
   easier. As of January 2008, in a shift from mid-2007, the majority
   of weapons dropped were targeting deeply buried [improvised
   explosive devices].

To clarify: The increase in airstrikes was a byproduct of the increase in troops; fortunately, another byproduct of the increase in troops (and dispersing them) was better (targetable) information about the insurgency. It was not, as General Dunlap suggests, a deliberate effort to increase kinetic strikes as a change to strategy.

Nor should it have been. The more important component of General David Petraeus's change in strategy has been the dispersal of American and Iraqi forces into the populace, and the establishment of persistent presence. This is the true "persistence revolution"--the effect within the minds of the Iraqi populace that is achieved by the relative increase in security throughout the day and night, not just when a patrol rolls through the neighborhood.

There is a very good reason Field Manual (FM) 3-24 identifies the local populace as the center of gravity in COIN. It is the belief that American and legitimate partner nation forces will persist and ultimately provide a more secure environment for the local populace that ultimately turns a population away from supporting an insurgency. Then, and only then, will Coalition forces begin to see increases in cooperation from the local populace in identifying and locating insurgents. Perhaps for the first time since 2003 we know on a large scale whom to surveil and target.

It is regarding this point that General Dunlap shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what is written in FM 3-24 as opposed to "the perception of the doctrine," which he describes with the phrase "winning hearts and minds. …

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