increase in air strikes in iraq, more planned for iran?

Bomb Iran? U.S. requests bunker-buster bombs

Tucked inside the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an item that has some people wondering whether the administration is preparing for military action against Iran.

The item: $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator, or, in military-speak, the MOP.

Military steps up war-zone airstrikes

The U.S. military has increased airstrikes in Iraq fivefold this year, reflecting a steep escalation in combat operations aimed at al-Qaeda and other militants.Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics.

Airstrikes are up in Afghanistan, too. Coalition planes have made 2,764 bombing runs this year, up from 1,770 last year. The figures don’t include strikes by helicopter gunships.

The increasing use of air power also stems from improved accuracy and smaller munitions that allow commanders to launch airstrikes against insurgents who travel in small groups and sometimes hide among civilians.

In Iraq, the temporary increase of 30,000 U.S. troops ordered by President Bush in January has led to the increase in bombing missions. The U.S. command has moved forces off large bases and into neighborhoods and has launched several large offensives aimed at al-Qaeda.

“You end up having that many more opportunities for close air support,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Mueller, director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Doha, Qatar.

More precise targeting and smaller bombs have made it easier for the Air Force to support ground troops in counterinsurgencies, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We’re hitting within 15 feet of where we’re aiming,” Mueller said. A typical 500-pound bomb is 50% explosives, but newer versions carry about 100 pounds of explosives.

Some bombs are “designed to take one building and not the whole block,” Mueller said.

Fighting in Baghdad has also pushed insurgents into the surrounding countryside, making it easier to spot and bomb them, he said.

Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain lends itself to airstrikes, since attack planes can reach remote regions before troops can, and there are fewer ground forces in the country.

“We are using air power in lieu of putting extensive forces on the ground,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, commander of the Air Force Doctrine Development and Education Center.

However, increased use of air power raises the chances of killing innocent civilians, said Mark Clodfelter, a professor at the National War College. Winning over the population is key to defeating insurgents.

“You don’t want bombing to be a recruiting method for the insurgents,” Clodfelter said.

Airstrikes in Afghanistan this year allegedly killed dozens of civilians, angering the population and drawing criticism from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

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