“This Is a Very Dangerous Business”

That is what Lt. Gen. Gary North, 9th Air Force/Air Forces Central commander, told Afghan news media last month when he discussed coalition and NATO air operations in Afghanistan, according to a May 8 release. He acknowledged that fighting conditions in Afghanistan “have put at risk innocent Afghan citizens,” but he added, “We also know that the enemy we face has a history of harming innocent citizens to spread their message of hate throughout the world.” North went on to outline the air support process, which he said calls for “a show of force” when the enemy is fighting around civilians, except when an Afghan or coalition ground force faces “more severe” enemy fire, at which point “we are called in to provide direct fire support in the form of air strikes.” He continued, “This is a very dangerous business that we find ourselves in, and we take this situation very seriously.” He called the Taliban use of human shields a “purposeful strategy” that plays to “the goal of every insurgency” which “is to make it appear that the government cannot protect its citizens.” North added that coalition forces “take it as our duty to protect the innocent Afghan population, but there is no action that hurts our goal of eliminating safe havens for terrorism and providing a stable environment for the future of this country than when non-combatant Afghan citizens are harmed.” (Combined Air and Space Operations Center report by Maj. Tim Johnson)