The Cost of Air Support in Afghanistan

More on COIN narrative, since the domestic opinion-shaping campaign seems to have been cranked up a notch.

The “hearts and minds” costs of imprecise airstrikes in a counterinsurgency are too well-documented to spend much time on. Not surprising, then, that part of the narrative now being constructed for the Afghanistan War is the lengths to which American pilots go to avoid actually dropping bombs that might cause civilian casualties.

What I did find surprising, though, was this:

From 15,000 feet up, the pilots protect supply lines under increasingattack, fly reconnaissance missions to find what they call “bad guys”over the next hill, and go “kinetic” with bombs that kill three, fouror five Taliban fighters at a time. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I tried to track down the munitions for the F/A-18C Hornets mentioned in the article to get an idea of how much that would cost. But it’s impossible to tell from the article just what they’re letting go of on this kind of run, and they’re potentially equipped with too wide a variety of bombs and missiles to even get a ballpark idea. (Anyone with greater familiarity with this kind of detail, feel free to chime in via email.)

Still, that sounds like a lot of buck for the bang. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t provide air support when American soldiers’ lives are in jeopardy. It’s just another illustration of how far the facts on the ground in Afghanistan have outpaced the war planning, and how ill-suited to actual tactical needs some of the stopgap measures really are.