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June 1, 2011—
Combat air activities in Southwest Asia—especially Afghanistan—have grown at a breakneck pace over the past several years, said Lt. Gen. Mike Hostage, US Central Command's top airman.

Close air support sorties in Afghanistan went from 20,359 in 2008 to more than 33,679 in 2010, according to Air Forces Central statistics. However, the number of CAS sorties with weapons released held fairly steady, with 5,215 in 2008 compared to 5,101 in 2010.

"The basic reality is, we hit what we aim at. We're very careful about when and where we drop bombs," Hostage told the Daily Report from his theater headquarters during a May 26 phone interview.

US and coalition air assets have been able to adhere to the tactical directives on employing airpower first put forward by then-ISAF Commander Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, followed by current commander Army Gen. David Petraeus, said Hostage.

"The tactical directive was really laid on the backs of the ground force commanders, to make sure the targets they want destroyed they really wanted destroyed," he said.

The CAS numbers show that AFCENT has been diligent working with ground commanders to ensure weapons are employed precisely in a conflict where the enemy often seeks to use the presence of civilians as protection from airpower, said Hostage.

The "tremendous" increase in intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance sorties also has been critical to the Afghan campaign, he noted. USAF has committed "everything we've got" to the battlefield, he said. "You can't look at everything, but we have the ability . . . to put that ISR where it's needed when it's most needed."

Hostage soon will be heading to his new assignment as commander of Air Combat Command at Langley AFB, Va.

(See also Airpower on the Rise.)