(CNN Opinion) — The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine last week, most likely after being struck with a missile fired by pro-Russian rebel forces, was followed this week by the rebels' shoot-down of two Su-25 attack aircraft deployed by the Ukrainian Air Force.
These incidents reflect a typical pattern in insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations. Air power is often crucial in fighting insurgents, as it has been recently in Ukraine. The Ukrainian air force has made up for the poor performance of Ukrainian ground units by driving rebel forces into retreat. The Su-25 ground-attack planes that were shot down this week were part of a renewed Ukrainian air offensive against rebel positions.
Because governments fighting insurgencies often enjoy a monopoly or major advantage in air power, rebel fighters must try to offset this advantage by using surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, and other air-defense weapons. That is precisely what has been happening recently in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have shot down at least a dozen Ukrainian military aircraft over the past few months. […]