The US military carried out about half of the airstrikes in 2021 as it did in 2020, a change that defense analysts say is at least in part due to the Biden administration’s emphasis on diplomacy over withdrawal from Afghanistan and military force.
According to data published by the military, US air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia last year totaled 510, which was 48.3% less than 987 US air strikes carried out in similar war zones in 2020.
VOA used airstrike confirmations provided in press releases by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and airpower summary published by US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) for this report.
However, since the VOA began an inquiry into global airstrikes statistics, two US military officials have confirmed that the published airstrikes numbers, which journalists rely on to monitor these attacks, were carried out by the US military. There is an incomplete picture of the total number of global air strikes carried out. Since 2019, a joint counter-terrorism task force established in the Middle East has conducted additional airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan that are not included in the AFCENT airpower summary because AFCENT is not responsible for those attacks.
The VOA has asked US Central Command for the number of additional air strikes conducted by the joint task force in 2020 and 2021, which would increase the total number of attacks from both years, but that data was not provided prior to publication.
Two weeks after Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would take steps to “course-correct” US foreign policy to “better integrate our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership.” He tasked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to lead a review of US forces around the world so that America’s military footprint, in his words, “appropriately aligns with our foreign policy and national security priorities.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, told VOA that the reduction in airstrikes is in line with Biden’s views about diplomacy, but the withdrawal of the US-led coalition from Afghanistan last year and a more stable one against Islamic State. Status shows both. in Iraq and Syria.
“There were fewer targets to hit, and fewer reasons to do so,” he told VOA.
On August 31, 2021, after the withdrawal of troops to Afghanistan ended, US forces halted attacks.
The Pentagon has vowed to use airstrikes “above the horizon” from outside Afghanistan to target terrorists in the country who plan to strike the US homeland or the homeland of US allies. However, the last such strike was on August 27, 2021, targeting the Islamic State-Khorasan terror group in eastern Afghanistan. The attack comes a day after a suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport killed 13 US service members and several Afghan civilians.
In Iraq and Syria, US and international forces officially transitioned to a non-combat mission on December 9, 2021, a day before Iraq’s government celebrated its fourth anniversary of defeating Islamic State. Airstrikes there in 2020 and 2021 were used to target the remnants of the terror group and to protect the US and international allies from attacks by terrorist groups backed by Iran.
Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA: “Even as the (Biden) administration is negotiating with Iran in Vienna, Tehran’s proxy on our troops.” are attacking.” He said the increase in attacks by Iranian-backed militants and the decrease in US airstrikes was the result of the president’s “misunderstanding of the relationship between diplomatic success and military power”.
In the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, US airstrikes increased during the Trump administration, as military commanders used strikes to quickly target al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab without placing significant numbers of troops on the ground.
The strikes continued in the final days of Trump’s presidency, with six of the 10 attacks in 2021 being carried out before Biden took office on January 20.
In 2020 and 2021, no US military airstrikes were conducted in Yemen, according to US Central Command, with several airstrikes each year against members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Criticism of the Civil Casualty Investigation
Although US commanders and some analysts have praised the ability of the airstrikes to limit risks to US forces, there has been increased scrutiny of these attacks in recent weeks. new York Times The investigation revealed several flaws in the Pentagon’s dismissal of civilian casualty claims.
Allegations of civilian casualties in US airstrikes were most of the time dismissed by the Civil Casualty Cell, which was tasked with assessing them.
although new York Times reviewed 80 such assessments and “repeatedly found what appear to be simple mistakes,” – “monitors” Times Journalists were able to find out using resources widely available to the public.”
In one instance, the military learned of a claim that more than 30 people, including women and children, were killed in an airstrike in the Mosul area of Siha, but military investigators rejected this claim as they were trying to explore the neighborhood. failed in Times reporters found the neighborhood in Google Maps simply by adding an “H” to the end of Siha, as Arabic names often have many spelling variations when converted to English. Several news reports from the time also confirmed the location of the neighborhood.
Other claims were dismissed because of the investigator’s inability to determine which of the many attacks in the area was the subject of the claim.
The Pentagon has said it is committed to investigating these mistakes.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said earlier this month in response to a VOA question, “Civil harm is something we take seriously, and as the secretary herself has said, we believe we need to do better.” To do.” “And as we improve, as we make changes, we will certainly be transparent about that.”