Last week’s [two drone strikes](http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-missiles13-2010jan13,0,3404492.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+latimes/news/nationworld/world+(L.A.+Times+-+World+News\)) in Afghanistan rattled journalists. Didn’t Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sharply restrict offensive air strikes? Laura King, reporting from Kabul for the Los Angeles Times, [wondered](http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-missiles13-2010jan13,0,3404492.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+latimes/news/nationworld/world+(L.A.+Times+-+World+News\)) if the two strikes, occurring in rapid succession, “signaled what could be a change of tactics against Taliban fighters.”
According to McChrystal’s command, however, there is no change in tactics. Or, rather, the only change in tactics is an increase in drone strikes under his six-month old command from his predecessor. Overall airstrikes, particularly from piloted aircraft, are indeed down under McChrystal. But “the two-in-one-day strikes you saw the other day may have been unusual from a press release standpoint,” McChrystal spokesman Tadd Sholtis, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, emailed, “but it wasn’t an operational aberration.”
Indeed, according to data provided by Sholtis, the first half of January has seen six airstrikes from remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) like the Reaper. December 2009 featured 14 so-called RPA strikes; while under McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, December 2008 featured three. From Sholtis, here’s the full monthly breakdown of those drone strikes since McChrystal took command in Afghanistan this summer, as compared to the previous year:
July 2009: 13 — July 2008: 15
August 2009: 14 — August 2008: 11
September 2009: 8 — September 2008: 5
October 2009: 11 — October 2008: 12
November 2009: 23 — November 2008: 12
December 2009: 14 — December 2008: 3
January 1 – January 14, 2009: 6 — January 2008: 3
The spike in recent months compared to the previous year looks like the result of a combination of factors. First, the increased operational tempo of U.S. troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan’s south and east, despite the (increasingly less relevant) traditional winter lull. Second, senior military leaders like Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq’s Gen. Raymond Odierno have spoken for months about accelerating the transfer of combat-support assets like surveillance drones to Afghanistan; and those drones can be outfitted with Hellfire missiles. “More strikes by these aircraft is probably best understood as a function of more ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] -and-strike capable assets flowing to the theater,” Sholtis said. And finally, the precision capabilities contained within the remotely-piloted drones satisfy McChrystal’s guidance for a “a higher degree of certainty, patience and restraint in employing air strikes,” in Sholtis’ phrase. Or, as a Marine officer quoted in The Washington Post put it, “It has pinpoint precision, and it limits collateral damage.”
And that’s the most important aspect of the increase in drone usage: it has occurred during an internationally validated reduction in U.S./NATO-attributable civilian casualties. A United Nations report released yesterday determined that the U.S. and its allies are responsible for 28 percent fewer civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2009 than in 2008, a drop that the U.N. specifically attributed to McChrystal’s instructions to prioritize the protection of Afghan civilians. It looks like McChrystal’s command has found the sweet spot: an increase in aerial lethality that does not result in significant collateral damage.
For more on the air war in Afghanistan and McChrystal’s role in it, I can’t recommend this recent Wired piece by Noah Shachtman highly enough.
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.)
One of the most conservative Democrats in the House -- a freshman who said he couldn’t support Nancy Pelosi again -- is going to switch over to the GOP. Josh
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Perlmutter to hold constituent meet-up in grocery store
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter will hold a Government in the Grocery constituent meet-up this evening from 5-7 at the Safeway at 38th and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. The address is 3900 Wadsworth. The meeting, where Perlmutter typically sits at a folding table and talks to whomever shows up, is free and open to the public
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Pete Hoekstra Bashes Global Currency
I was just talking to Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who’s leaving Congress to run for governor of Michigan, about his proposed Parental Rights Amendment—a
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.