Role of Air forces for Counter insurgency Operations: Failure and Success in Afghanistan


Military might has three dimensions, they are essentially known as Army, Air force and Navy. While each of them poses there distinct advantages and shortcomings, yet the recent two decade of warfare from 1990 till date have seen a revolution in the on ground implementation of these three types of forces. A rapid revolution of technology has also played its part in changing the balance these three types of military forces hold in the battle field, along with the support that they extend to each other. In recent times Air force has stepped forward and prompted itself as a force with following strong points:-

            (a)        Rapid projection of force, mobility and engagement.

            (b)       Improved strategic, operational and tactical situational awareness

            (c)        Flexibility of targeting and reach.


These strong points surely made Air force the most dependable military might by the dawn of the 21st century. However the global scenario of warfare has changed rapidly after the Serbian War. The world can now again be envisioned as a bi polar force, in which on one side we have the modern regulation military forces, that may represent a nation, country or in some cases a group of countries like NATO, or a international interest custodian like the UN forces. However today the enemy on the other side is far different then what the world saw in the days of the red army. The enemy that the Blue force (a term that may be used for the worlds conventional military forces that have the capability to combine together for warfare) faces in major parts of the world is unconventional. It has its own strengths, own short comings, own objectives. Some of these are elaborated below:-

(a)                The advantage of being covertness and hidden.

(b)               The advantage of unconventional tools of warfare.

(c)                The motto that whoever is not supporting you is your enemy.

The blue forces have been facing this type of enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the border regions adjacent to Pakistan since year 2001.

In depth Analysis of Afghanistan

If we analyze a country like Afghanistan and what the international forces are actually fighting there, we need to first understand the ground realities of the place.

For ages it has been a place with a historical distinction that no one in history has ever been able to capture Afghanistan. Be it the invasion of Chengaiz Khan, the British rule over subcontinent or the USSR invasion in the eighties. For some predominant reason each force that was presumably a lethal military might of its time, chose to cross the land to move on. When Russia launched its own campaign to invade the country they failed miserably. Once has to acknowledge that part of the credit can be taken by the western world for that defeat. However one cannot deny the on ground potential and the unconventional atrocities of the region that made one super power to collapse.

The hard rocky mountain terrain, with scare supply of inland resources of water and food, along with adverse climate prove a hell for any outside force. Based on these facts the present international forces choose to setup only Air force in Afghanistan as the main fighting weapon to country the insurgency issue.

They backed their decision by utilizing technologies unknown and unseen in previous wars. Utilizing drones and unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance, Intel gathering, and projection of fire power, is what the world was not familiar with prior to said war. As a second tool of option modern air forces are utilizing Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) and smart and small bombs with an accuracy of less than 5meters to engage the enemy.  For doing so Baghram Air Base is the largest setup of the international air forces in the region. The main aim behind the whole skirmish one can perceive is to keep humans as much out of the firing line and lot of battle as possible. This seems to be the prime objective in application of force in Afghanistan.

However the targets for a military to overcome in war in any sphere of battle can be presented as stated by Colonel John Warden in his five ring theory. Even if we may not accept Wardens theory in totality, once can assume the five rings as five targets that each military force has to conquer in war.

(a)               Leadership of the enemy forces.

(b)              Organics/System Essentials.

(c)               Infrastructure

(d)              Population

(e)               Fielded Military Forces.

Once the effectiveness of the air forces in the scenario of Afghanistan is studied baring in mind the above given five targets, any observer might get confused over the Slogan of Victory that has been heard in every street of USA and Europe. As despite all projection of technology and modernization of tactics, during last 10 years since 2001 till date the following facts still hold ground:-

(a)    The leadership of Al-Qaeda and Taliban are still alive and free.

(b)   There were no visible organic or system essentials in Afghanistan, as the country never had any system or regular force that the international forces are fighting.

(c)    There is no definite infrastructure of military or economic significance that may have affected the insurgents in Afghanistan, in contrast to what we could see in Iraq.

(d)   The population of the Afghan country is a difficult phenomenon to understand, it is very hard to segregate the friend from the foe. Therefore on ground application of force and that two a precise military like Air force seems to be an unclear and unsuccessful scenario.

(e)    In Afghanistan when an F-16 aircraft fires two PGMs to blow up a house of sand and rubble in which it is perceived that two or three insurgents are hiding that have AK-47, and might be able to make unconventional IEDs (Improvised explosive devices). The economic equation seems totally out of balance. Not only this even if the insurgents are killed they are not a selected or specialist group of people whose training and deputation in the region has cost the force a handsome amount. Rather the next door neighbors who tend to lose a close one in the bombing itself, serve as fuel for the fire to continue.


Thus one may conclude that the role of Modern Air forces in Afghanistan to counter insurgency has been a failure. The nine years of war has dampened the national economy of many countries, yet little has achieved as an outcome of said warfare

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