In case you thought that British withdrawal from Basra means that the suffering of Iraq and Afghanistan is coming to an end, think again. A report issued yesterday by U.S. Central Air Forces Combined Air Operations Center shows that last year the US military carried out five times more air strikes than in 2006.
Last year, the United States-Britain-led coalition dropped nearly four bombs a day on Iraq – a total of 1,447. This compared with 229, or four a week, in 2006. The figures do not include US Marine Corps air strikes, or US and NATO bombings in Afghanistan which doubled from 2006 to 2007.
Only last week, Operation Phantom Phoenix carried out air strikes across Iraq. On Thursday morning alone, Arab Jabour, 38 bombs with 40,000 pounds of explosives hit an area southeast of Baghdad in just 10 minutes. North of the city, 16,500 pounds of bombs were dropped in a few days last week.
Military commanders like US Army Col Terry Ferrell claim that better intelligence gathering allows precision strikes which “shape the battle field and take out known threats before our ground troops move in”.
But the United Nations and human rights groups say that the latest strategy carries an even higher risk of civilian casualties than before. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that more than 200 people have died since last April. “The Iraqi population remains at risk of harm during these operations,” spokeswoman Eliane Nabaa says. “The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area.” Human rights groups estimate that more than 300 civilians died as a result of bombing in Afghanistan last year. The Afghan Independent Human Rights commission says that “in previous casualty tallies by the UN, the number of civilians killed by NATO forces has exceeded the numbers killed by the Taliban. What is striking though is the rise in the recorded number of deaths. In July, the UN reported a total of 600 civilian deaths for 2007 to that date, making a monthly average of about 100. Based on that estimate, the total for September has increased by over 50% from the average.”
The US-UK military hope to wipe out insurgents from the air in order to minimise troop casualties as US military deaths have risen to 3,926 since the occupation began in 2003. UK military deaths reached 260 in December and look set to rise in Afghanistan.
And while commanders grotesquely boast about “using air power more creatively” and deploy concrete-filled bombs and 250 and 500 pounders “to make blasts safer for civilians”, no date has been set for a withdrawal of US troops. On the contrary, the plan is for a long-term troop presence.
Both leading US Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have actively opposed setting a date for leaving Iraq or Afghanistan. Both of them approved a no-strings-attached $300 billion war funding. They voted to confirm key players in the pro-war arena: Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, among others. The only wafer-thin difference that separates them is an anti-war speech made by Obama back in 2002. But it’s a different story now.
Meanwhile, back at the International Monetary Fund ranch, it’s business as usual. While Iraqi citizens pay the price of the occupation and civil strife, the IMF expects Iraq's economy to become stabile this year despite political and security problems “as oil production recovers and the government moves ahead with reforms”. Oil production, which accounts for 70% of Iraq’s domestic productivity, is expected to increase 'at least' by 200,000 barrels per day in 2008, according to Mohsin Khan, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department.
As one US blogger wrote to the Washington Post: “Who cares if a few more shoemakers and their children are slaughtered. It's all about the economy, stupid!”