In the lead up to Petraeus' Magical September Mystery Tour, Republicans were all over reports showing "progress" in Iraq. Lindsey Graham even said the progress was "beyond expectations." So why are they (and the media) keeping mum about the increase in airstrikes from 229 strikes in 2006 to over 1400 in 2007? Perhaps because even with such air support, their "the surge" is proving effective in achieving US objectives. And are the air strikes helping? Slate:
...though the shift means greater safety for our ground troops, it also generates more local hostility. Striking urban targets from the air inevitably means killing more innocent bystanders. This makes some of the bystanders' relatives yearn for vengeance. And it makes many Iraqis—relatives, neighbors, and others watching the news of the attack on television—less trusting of the American troops who are supposedly protecting them.Military planners and supporters of "the surge" need to realize this is not chess, or a rousing game of Stratego. If we cannot give our troops a clear, achievable objective, we need to support them by bringing their asses home.
In a conventional war, these consequences might be deemed unavoidable side-effects. But in a counterinsurgency campaign, where the point is to sway the hearts and minds of the population, wreaking such damage is self-defeating.
The U.S. Army's field manual on counterinsurgency, which Gen. Petraeus supervised shortly before he returned to Iraq, makes the point explicitly:An air strike can cause collateral damage that turns people against the host-nation government and provides insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Even when justified under the law of war, bombings that result in civilian casualties can bring media coverage that works to the insurgents' benefits. … For these reasons, commanders should consider the use of air strikes carefully during [counterinsurgency] operations, neither disregarding them outright nor employing them excessively.Yet since the surge began and Gen. Petraeus shifted the strategy to counterinsurgency, the number of U.S. airstrikes has soared.
UPDATE: From the comments, a great article at One Utah: What's Really Happening In Iraq (h/t RMWarnick)