Improved air-ground integration has had a profound effect on Afghanistan operations, says the top coalition general there.
—Marc V. Schanz
Air commanders in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been "empowered appropriately," even with a relatively small footprint, and have used very effective reachback to the coalition forces air component commander to get overhead assets where they're needed most, said Petraeus during a May 27 phone interview from his Kabul headquarters.
"They have been provided the sufficient authorities to ensure the best responses possible to the commanders on the ground," he said.
Since arriving in Afghanistan in July 2010 as ISAF commander, Petraeus said the responsiveness of close air support has gone from "great to exceptional."
The traditional standard had been 12 minutes from the time assets are requested to when they are on station. Recently the average response time has fluctuated around eight minutes, he said.
"We have confirmed very much the important contribution air assets make in [counterinsurgency] operations," said Petraeus, whom President Obama on May 26 nominated to lead the CIA.
Petraeus noted that weapons drops during close air support have been very precise.
"I cannot think of a significant civilian casualty event on my watch out here [from air assets]. There have been some in the past, but not on my watch," he said.
Even when not employing weapons, the presence of air assets affects the battlefield and influences outcomes, he said.
Petraeus' comments came two days before a NATO airstrike reportedly claimed the lives of nine Afghan civilians. That event led Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday to demand that NATO cease bombing residential compounds.
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