The Pentagon has finally published its first Airpower Summary since President Joe Biden took office nearly one year ago. These monthly reports have been published since 2007 to document the number of bombs and missiles dropped by U.S.-led air forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria since 2004. But President Donald Trump stopped publishing them after February 2020, shrouding continued U.S. bombing in secrecy.
The country actually bombing cities to rubble and waging wars that kill millions of people, presents itself as a well-intentioned force for good in the world.
Over the past twenty years, as documented in the table below, U.S. and allied air forces have dropped more than 337,000 bombs and missiles on other countries—an average of forty-six strikes per day. This endless bombardment has not only been deadly and devastating for its victims, but is also broadly recognized as seriously undermining international peace and security, diminishing the United States’ standing in the world.
Now, even in the face of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, they are doubling down on their success at selling this counterfactual narrative to the public to reignite their old Cold War with Russia and China, dramatically and predictably increasing the risk of nuclear war.
The new Airpower Summary data reveal that the United States has dropped another 3,246 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (2,068 under Trump and 1,178 under Biden) since the end of February 2020.
The good news is that U.S. bombing of those three countries has significantly decreased from the more than 12,000 bombs and missiles it dropped on them in 2019. In fact, since the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Afghanistan in August, the U.S. military has officially conducted no air strikes there, and the new data shows that only thirteen bombs or missiles were dropped on Iraq and Syria—although this does not preclude additional unreported strikes by forces under CIA command or control.
Presidents Trump and Biden both deserve credit for recognizing that endless bombing and occupation could not deliver victory in Afghanistan. The speed with which the U.S.-installed government fell to the Taliban once the U.S. withdrawal was underway confirmed how twenty years of hostile military occupation, aerial bombardment, and support for corrupt governments ultimately served only to drive the war-weary people of Afghanistan back to Taliban rule.
There has been no accountability for these twenty years of senseless destruction. Even with the publication of Airpower Summaries, the ugly reality of U.S. bombing wars and the mass casualties they inflict remain largely hidden.
A December 2021 exposé in The New York Times, the result of a five-year investigation, highlighted the consequences of U.S. airstrikes. The article was stunning not only for the high civilian casualties and military lies it exposed, but also because it revealed just how little investigative reporting the U.S. media have done on these two decades of war. For most of the U.S. public, it is as if these hundreds of thousands of deadly explosions never even happened.
Now that the new Airpower Summary has filled in the previously hidden figures for 2020-21, here is the most complete data available on twenty years of deadly and destructive U.S. and allied air strikes:
Numbers of bombs and missiles dropped on other countries by the United States and its allies since 2001:
Grand Total = 337,055 bombs and missiles dropped since 2001.
**Other Countries: Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia.
These figures are based on U.S. Airpower Summaries for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count of drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; the Yemen Data Project‘s count of bombs and missiles dropped on Yemen (only through September 2021); the New America Foundation’s database of foreign air strikes in Libya; and other sources.
The failure of the U.S. government, politicians, and corporate media to honestly inform and educate the public about the systematic mass destruction wreaked by our country’s armed forces has allowed this carnage to continue largely unremarked and unchecked for twenty years.
It has also left us precariously vulnerable to the revival of an anachronistic, Manichean Cold War narrative that risks even greater catastrophe. In this topsy-turvy, “through the looking glass” narrative, the country actually bombing cities to rubble and waging wars that kill millions of people, presents itself as a well-intentioned force for good in the world. Then it paints countries like China, Russia, and Iran, which have understandably strengthened their defenses to deter the United States from attacking them, as threats to the U.S. people and to world peace.
The high-level talks that began on January 10 in Geneva between the United States and Russia are a critical opportunity, maybe even a last chance, to rein in the escalation of the current Cold War before this breakdown in East-West relations becomes irreversible or devolves into a military conflict.
If we are to emerge from this morass of militarism and avoid the risk of an apocalyptic war with Russia or China, the U.S. public must challenge the counterfactual Cold War narrative that U.S. military and civilian leaders are peddling to justify their ever-increasing investments in nuclear weapons and the U.S. war machine.