CAS up by nearly a third in Afghanistan

USA Today: Airstrikes in Afghanistan increase 31%

An F-16 Fighting Falcon launches electronic countermeasure flares following an aerial refueling mission over Iraq.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon launches electronic countermeasure flares following an aerial refueling mission over Iraq.

Air missions to back U.S. troops on the ground have increased by 31% in Afghanistan this year, as fighting in the country spreads.

The growing reliance on air power raises the risk of injuring civilians and their property and reflects a shortage of ground forces needed to protect civilians and root out insurgents, ground commanders and military experts say.

“If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on” airstrikes, said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Ground commanders in Afghanistan have asked for an additional three combat brigades and an array of support forces, which could amount to about 20,000 more troops.

The air missions, called close air support, are airstrikes requested by ground forces engaged with the enemy.

This report makes it sound like the primary job of CAS is to help troops when there aren’t enough of them. CAS certainly performs that duty, of course, but it’s hardly the only time, or even the primary time, that it’s employed.

CAS will be employed heavily whenever possible wherever US troops are engaged. If we boosted troop numbers in Afghanistan, they’d be in combat more often and CAS missions would be even more numerous. Any slight reductions due to more plentiful troops would be more than offset by more engagements.

(This would be the best course of action, in Murdoc’s humble opinion.)

The higher CAS numbers reflect more combat due to a more-active enemy and more offensive missions by US and allied troops. This is what we saw in Iraq when the “surge” troops began arriving and the offensive-oriented and active patrol operations picked back up.

I couldn’t quickly find a list of CAS missions in Iraq by month to support my claim, but here are two stories from the summer of 2007 noting the increase in Air Force combat missions in Iraq.

USA Today: Under the radar: Air Force ramps up in Iraq (July 07)
NPR: U.S. Air Force Missions Increase in Iraq (September 07)

The timing coincides with the “surge” swinging into full gear. More combat = more CAS.

Sure, we could use more troops in Afghanistan. But the elevated CAS numbers will go up if and when they arrive, not down.


  1. It seems like it depends more on the type of war you are fight. Iraq has been more of an Urban insurgency, and flipping bombs at the bad guys there just gets you more angry people and more bad guys. Because of that, air, arty, and all the other heavy hitters had to be examined really carefully before they were used, to make sure that it would be worth the possible collateral, and that the minimum force was used to get the job done.

    From what I have heard of Afghanistan, its been more open country warfare, with actual stand up battles, with fire and maneuver and everything. That being the case, then yeah, there’s going to be plenty of CAS regardless. With no civilians at risk in an air strike, it would be dumb to send in troops when a JDAM can do the job, and keep our guys out of risk. But then again, if there were more troops, the bad guys would probably be more on the defensive, and have to fight a littler more furtively, in a manner closer to Iraq. You need the proper amount of conventional forces to make the bad guys go underground and fight guerrilla style. And that kind of insurgency is hardy to smash with air power. So in that sense, the article is right.

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