The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Air Force has increased bombings of Taliban and insurgent targets in Afghanistan, surpassing air operations in Iraq. According to Air Force officials, U.S. aircraft conducted 750 air strikes in Afghanstan during May, an average of 24 a day.
The problem with trying to kill the Taliban (which, by the way, is not necessarily the same thing as al Qaeda) from above — even with precision weapons — is that collateral damage is inevitable, as was the case last week when U.S. air strikes resulted in 17 civilians killed. We may be able to precisely hit physical targets, but we do not always know precisely if the people killed are the intended targets or innocents. Collateral damage creates spillover effects that result in creating more new terrorists — much like the cycle of violence the Israelis experience in the West Bank. For example, the suicide bomber responsible for killing 19 Israelis in Haifa at the beginning of October 2003 was a 29-year-old apprentice lawyer, Hanadi Jaradat — an educated woman with a good, well-paying job who would not ordinarily fit a terrorist profile. According to John Burns of the New York Times, Jaradat’s parents “had no indication that their daughter had any contacts with Islamic militants — no sense, they said, that she had any ambition but to establish her career as a lawyer, marry, and have children.” But she had motivation: an Israeli crackdown that resulted in the shooting death of her brother, Fadi, 23, and her cousin Saleh, 31.
We need to learn from, not copy, Israeli tactics and recognize that the unintended consequences of military actions like the air strikes in Azizi can do more to create anti-American sentiment that is the first step toward becoming a terrorist. The Israelis justify their actions because they feel they must confront a direct and imminent mortal threat to the survival of their country. But U.S. actions in Afghanistan are more connected to the survival of a U.S.-created government and not the security of the United States itself. Unfortunately, if the Israeli experience is any indication, the likely result of stepped up U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan will be a cycle of violence that will play into the hands of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and create more terrorist recruits.
Charles (Chuck) Pena is a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, MSNBC analyst, and author of “Winning the Un-War.”