Gareth Porter’s latest (excerpts)-
(IPS) – At his confirmation hearings two weeks ago, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said reducing civilian deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan was “strategically decisive” and declared his “willingness to operate in ways that minimise casualties or damage, even when it makes our task more difficult.” Some McChrystal supporters hope he will rein in the main source of civilian casualties: Special Operations Forces (SOF) units that carry out targeted strikes against suspected “Taliban” on the basis of doubtful intelligence and raids that require air strikes when they get into trouble.
But there are growing indications that his command is preparing to deal with the issue primarily by seeking to shift the blame to the Taliban through more and better propaganda operations and by using more high-tech drone intelligence aircraft to increase battlefield surveillance rather than by curbing the main direct cause of civilian casualties. U.S. officials at a NATO conference in Brussels last Friday were telling reporters that “public relations” are now considered “crucial” to “turning the tide” in Afghanistan, according to an AFP story on Jun 12.
But McChrystal hinted in his confirmation hearing that he hoped to reduce civilian casualties by obtaining more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Petraeus confirmed that approach to the problem in remarks at the CNAS conference last week, announcing that he was planning to shift some high-tech intelligence vehicles from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Petraeus referred to “predators, armed full motion video with Hellfire missiles”, “special intelligence birds”, and unmanned intelligence vehicles called Shadows and Ravens, which fly 24 hours a day.
Although such intelligence aircraft may make U.S. battlefield targeting more precise, Petraeus’s reference to drones equipped with Hellfire missiles suggests that U.S. forces in Afghanistan may now rely more than previously on drone strikes against suspected Afghan insurgents. Given the chronic lack of accurate intelligence on the identity of insurgent leaders, that would tend to increase civilian casualties.