In the Arena

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About some interesting new developments in Iraq.

For the Iraq obsessives out there, there’s yet another interesting piece from Fred Kaplan at Slate about the U.S. military’s increased use of air attacks. If Kaplan is saying that the air attacks are integral to the declining U.S. casualties, I’m not sure I agree with him. The decline is mostly attributable to the successful tribal campaign against Al Qaeda in Iraq (or whatever you want to call the Sunni salafists) and to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad by the Shi’ites.

The increase in air attacks–and I would imagine these are mostly helicopter assaults, not fixed-wing jets–has to do with the far more aggressive tactics Petraeus has been employing, especially since Operation Phantom Thunder began in June. Kaplan’s right that this is a far cry from the counterinsurgency tactics Petraeus helped develop for the field manual–his staff is calling it “Counterinsurgency Plus,” but I do think that one of the more successful aspects of the surge has been the use of old-fashioned kinetics to rout the terrorists from strongholds like Baquba–which has prevented the terrorists from moving their biggest bombs south to Baghdad (and why so many vehicle-borne ieds have been exploding up north).

On the other hand, there’s this: After the Shi’ite rebellion of 1920, the British decided the cheapest way to “control” the local population was air power. All you have to do is read Gertrude Bell to see how little has changed.