In a recent inside-the-fold roundup of the previous
day's mayhem in Iraq, David S. Cloud, writing
for my hometown paper, devoted 729 words to an account of American casualties
from IEDs ("Six American soldiers and their interpreter were killed by a roadside
bomb in western Baghdad..."), Iraqi Army, police, insurgent, and civilian casualties,
and various bombers all of whom were on the ground: suicide bombers,
car bombers, truck bombers. Nine words in the report were devoted to the American
air war: "American troops killed eight suspected insurgents on Sunday, the military
said six in an airstrike near Garma, in Anbar Province, and two
southwest of Baghdad." We have no further information on that air strike in
Garma; no idea what kind of aircraft struck, or with what weaponry, or how those
in the air were so certain that those dead on the ground were "suspected insurgents,"
or who exactly suspected them of being insurgents. The equivalent Washington
Post roundup did not even mention that the operation involved an air
This has been fairly typical of the last few years of minimalist to nonexistent
mainstream media coverage of the air war in Iraq, based almost singularly on
similarly minimalist military press handouts or statements. We do, however,
know something about an air strike, also "in the Garma area," last December
in which the U.S. military announced that it had "destroyed a foreign fighter
safe house in a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, killing five insurgents,
two women and a child." Local residents later claimed
to an Iraqi journalist that the strike had actually "killed nine members of
the same family three women, three girls and three boys and wounding a
man." Air power, for all its "precision," remains a remarkably indiscriminate
form of warfare, though headlines
like this one from the BBC, are seldom seen here: "US attack 'kills Iraqi children.'"
We also know from a recent report that the ill-covered operations of the U.S.
Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan have nonetheless significantly degraded American
equipment, in the air as on the ground. According to the Air Combat Command's
Ronald Keys, U.S. planes and helicopters are wearing down (and out) from
conducting so many missions "in harsh environments." For instance, the general
tell U.S. that the A-10 a plane used regularly because "its cannon is particularly
effective in strafing" is increasingly likely to have "cracked wings."
Keep in mind that, however poorly covered these last years, air power has
long been the American way of war. After all, it was no mistake that the Iraq
war began with a pure show of air power meant to "shock and awe" not just Iraqis
but the world. And yet, in recent years in Iraq, the only "bombers" we hear
about are of the suicide car or truck variety. This is strange indeed, because
nothing should have stopped American journalists from visiting our air bases
in the region, from spending time with pilots, or from simply looking up at
the evidently crowded skies over their hotels.
The only good mainstream report on American air power in Iraq in this period
has been Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece, "Up
in the Air," in December 2005 significantly enough, by a journalist who
had never set foot in Iraq. He reminded U.S. then of something forgotten for several
decades that President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan to withdraw
all American "ground troops" (but not tens of thousands of U.S. advisors) from
South Vietnam also involved a massive ratcheting upward of the American air
war. Hersh reported that, in late 2005, George W. Bush's Iraqification formula
("Our strategy is straightforward: As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand
down…") was but a Vietnamization plan in sheep's clothing. As he wrote at the
time: "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's
public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by
American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way
to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat
In recent months, as the revived Taliban has surged in Afghanistan and U.S.
as well as NATO troops have proven in short supply, this is just what has happened.
power has increasingly been called upon; civilian casualties have been spiking;
and Afghans have been growing ever more upset and oppositional. Iraq will undoubtedly
be next. There is, as Nick Turse indicates below, already evidence that the
use of air power is "surging" in that country.
Here, then, is a post-surge formula to keep in mind: "Withdrawal" equals
an increase in air power (as long as the commitment to withdraw isn't a total
one). This is no less true of the "withdrawal" plans of the major Democratic
presidential candidates and the Democratic congressional mainstream as it is
of any administration planning for future draw-downs. All of these plans are
largely confined to withdrawing or redeploying American "combat brigades," which
add up to only something like half of all American forces in Iraq. None of this
will necessarily lessen the American war there. As Patrick Clawson, the deputy
director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Hersh, it may
only "change the mix of the forces doing the fighting." A partial withdrawal
is actually likely, at least for a time, to increase the destructive brutality
of the war on the American side.
Tomdispatch has, from a distance, been following as carefully as possible what
can be known about the American air war in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Tomdispatch
regular Nick Turse has been heroically on
the job of late. The piece that follows is, I believe, the best assessment
of the air war that can, at present, be found in our media world. When you read
this piece about what we do and mainly don't know on the subject, you
need to imagine that somewhere down the line, as "withdrawal" begins, there
is likely to be worse to come, possibly far worse, in terms of destruction from
the air. (This piece appears in abbreviated form in the latest issue of the
Nation Magazine.) Tom
Did the U.S. Lie about Cluster Bomb Use in Iraq?
The Shape of a Shadowy Air War
By Nick Turse
Did the U.S. military use cluster bombs in Iraq
in 2006 and then lie about it? Does the U.S. military keep the numbers of rockets
and cannon rounds fired from its planes and helicopters secret because more
Iraqi civilians have died due to their use than any other type of weaponry?
These are just two of the many unanswered questions related to the largely
uncovered air war the U.S. military has been waging in Iraq.
What we do know is this: Since the major combat phase of the war ended in
April 2003, the U.S. military has dropped at least 59,787 pounds of air-delivered
cluster bombs in Iraq the very type of weapon that Marc Garlasco, the senior
military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls, "the single greatest risk
civilians face with regard to a current weapon that is in use." We also know
that, according to expert opinion, rockets and cannon fire from U.S. aircraft
may account for most U.S. and coalition-attributed Iraqi civilian deaths and
that the Pentagon has restocked hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these
weapons in recent years.
Unfortunately, thanks to an utter lack of coverage by the mainstream media,
what we don't know about the air war in Iraq so far outweighs what we do know
that anything but the most minimal picture of the nature of destruction from
the air in that country simply can't be painted. Instead, think of the story
of U.S. air power in Iraq as a series of tiny splashes of lurid color on a
largely blank canvas.
Even among the least covered aspects of the air war in Iraq, the question
of cluster-bomb (CBU) use remains especially shadowy. This is hardly surprising.
After all, at a time when many nations are moving toward banning the use of
cluster munitions at a February 2007 conference in Oslo, Norway, 46 of
48 governments represented supported a declaration for a new international
treaty and ban on the weapons by 2008 the U.S. stands with China, Israel,
Pakistan, and Russia in opposing new limits of any kind.
Little wonder. The U.S. military has a staggering arsenal of these weapons.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Army holds 88% of the
Pentagon's CBU inventory at least 638.3 million of the cluster bomblets
that are stored inside each cluster munition; the Air Force and Navy, according
to Department of Defense figures, have 22.2 million and 14.7 million of the
bomblets, respectively. And even these numbers are considered undercounts
A cluster bomb bursts above the ground, releasing hundreds of smaller, deadly
submunitions or "bomblets" that increase the weapon's kill radius causing,
as Garlasco puts it, "indiscriminate effects." It's a weapon, he notes, that
"cannot distinguish between a civilian and a soldier when employed because
of its wide coverage area. If you're dropping the weapon and you blow your
target up you're also hitting everything within a football field. So to use
it in proximity to civilians is inviting a violation of the laws of armed
Worse yet, U.S. cluster munitions have a high failure rate. A sizeable number
of dud bomblets fall to the ground and become de facto landmines which,
Garlasco points out, are "already banned by most nations on this planet."
Garlasco adds: "I don't see how any use of the current U.S. cluster bomb arsenal
in proximity to civilian objects can be defended in any way as being legal
In an email message earlier this year, a U.S. Central Command Air Forces
(CENTAF) spokesman told this reporter that "there were no instances" of CBU
usage in Iraq in 2006. But military documents suggest this might not be the
Last year, Titus Peachey of the Mennonite Central Committee an organization
that has studied the use of cluster munitions for more than 30 years
filed a Freedom of Information Act request concerning the U.S. military's use
of cluster bombs in Iraq since "major combat operations" officially ended in
that country. In their response, the Air Force confirmed that 63 CBU-87 cluster
bombs were dropped in Iraq between May 1, 2003 and August 1, 2006. A CENTAF
spokesman contacted for confirmation that none of these were dropped on or after
January 1, 2006, offered no response. His superior officer, Lt. Col. John Kennedy,
the Deputy Director of CENTAF Public Affairs, similarly ignored this reporter's
requests for clarification.
These 12,726 BLU-97 bomblets each CBU-87 contains 202 BLU-97s or "Combined
Effects Bombs" (CEBs) which have antipersonnel, antitank, and incendiary capabilities
or "kill mechanisms" dropped since May 2003 are, according to statistics
provided by Human Rights Watch, in addition to almost two million cluster submunitions
used by coalition forces in Iraq in March and April 2003.
Asked about CBU usage by the Air Force in Iraq in 2006, Ali al-Fadhily,
an independent Iraqi journalist, commented: "The use of cluster bombs is a
sure thing, but it was very difficult to prove because there were no international
experts to document it." In the past, however, international experts have
actually had a chance to examine some locations where a fraction of the bomblets
that coalition forces used have landed.
On a 2004 research trip to Iraq, for instance, Titus Peachey visited numerous
sites which had experienced such strikes. At a farm in northern Iraq, he was
shown not only impact craters from exploded bomblets on a farmer's property
but also unexploded bomblets, by a team from the Mines Advisory Group, a humanitarian
organization devoted to landmine and bomb clearance. While "the de-miners
expressed frustration that the farmer had planted his field before it had
been cleared," Peachey explained that this was a common, if dangerous, practice
in such situations. The U.S. used similar ordnance in Laos during the Vietnam
War, he pointed out, noting:
"The villagers of Laos waited more than 20 years for clearance
work to get started in their fields and villages. During that time they had
no choice but to till soil that was filled with bombs. Otherwise they could
not eat. In Iraq, the several visits that we made confirmed this very same
dynamic. People could not afford to wait until clearance teams made their
farms safe for cultivation. They had to take great risks in order to survive."
Evidence of these risks can be found in U.S. military documents. Case in point:
a June 2005 internal memorandum from the U.S. Army's 42d Infantry Division which
describes how a 15-year old Iraqi boy, working as a shepherd, "was leading the
sheep through north Tikrit, near an ammo storage site, when he picked up a UXO
[unexploded ordnance] from a cluster bomb. The UXO detonated and he was killed."
Asked to pay $3,000 in compensation for the boy's life, the Army granted that
his death was "a horrible loss for the claimant," his mother, but concluded
that there was "insufficient evidence to indicate that U.S. Forces caused the
Iraqi documents also chronicle the effects of air-delivered cluster munitions.
Take a September 2006 report by the Conservation Center of Environment & Reserves,
an Iraqi non-governmental organization (NGO), examining alleged violations
of the laws of war by U.S. forces during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah.
According to its partial list of civilian deaths, at least 53 people were
killed by air-launched cluster bombs in the city that April. An analysis of
data collected by another Iraqi NGO, the Iraqi Health and Social Care Organization,
showed that, between March and June 2006, of 193 war-injured casualties analyzed,
148 (77%) were the result of cluster munitions of unspecified type.
Air War, Iraq: 2006
While cluster bombs remain a point of contention, Air Force officials do
acknowledge that U.S. military and coalition aircraft dropped at least 111,000
pounds of other types of bombs on targets in Iraq in 2006. This figure
177 bombs in all does not include guided missiles or unguided rockets fired,
or cannon rounds expended; nor, according to a CENTAF spokesman, does it take
into account the munitions used by some Marine Corps and other coalition fixed-wing
aircraft or any Army or Marine Corps helicopter gunships; nor does it include
munitions used by the armed helicopters of the many private
security contractors flying their own missions in Iraq.
In statistics provided to me, CENTAF reported a total of 10,519 "close air
support missions" in Iraq in 2006, during which its aircraft dropped those
177 bombs and fired 52 "Hellfire/Maverick missiles." The Guided Bomb Unit-12,
a laser-guided bomb with a 500-pound general purpose warhead 95 of which
were reportedly dropped in 2006 was the most frequently used bomb in Iraq
last year, according to CENTAF. In addition, 67 satellite-guided, 500-pound
GBU-38s and 15 2,000-pound GBU-31/32 munitions were also dropped on Iraqi
targets in 2006, according to official U.S. figures. There is no independent
way, however, to confirm the accuracy of this official count.
Rockets, like the 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rocket which can be outfitted with
various warheads and fired from either fixed-wing aircraft or most military
helicopters, are conspicuously absent from the totals so as not to "skew
the tally and present an inaccurate picture of the air campaign," said a CENTAF
spokesman mysteriously. If released, these figures might, however, prove impressive
indeed. According to a 2005 press
release issued by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who helped secure a five-year,
$900 million Hydra contract from the Army for General Dynamics, "the widely
used Hydra-70 rocket… has seen extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq… [and]
has become the world's most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system."
By this April,
$502 million in orders for the Hydra-70 had been placed by the Army since
the contract was awarded.
The number of cannon rounds essentially large caliber "bullets" fired
by CENTAF aircraft is also a closely guarded secret. The official reason given
is that "special forces often use aircraft such as the AC-130" gunships, which
fire cannon rounds, and "their missions and operations are classified, so
therefore these figures are not released." However, an idea of the number
of cannon rounds expended by CENTAF aircraft can be gleaned from a description
of a single operation on January 28, 2007 when U.S. F-16s and A-10 Thunderbolts
not only "dropped more than 3.5 tons of precision munitions," but also fired
"1,200 rounds of 20mm and 1,100 rounds of 30mm cannon fire" in a five square
mile area near the southern city of Najaf.
A sense of usage levels can also be gathered from a consideration of contracts
awarded in recent years. Take the 20mm PGU-28 ammunition used by helicopters
like the AH-1 Cobra and fixed-wing aircraft like the F-16. In 2001, the Department
of Defense noted that it held approximately eight million PGU-28/B rounds
in its inventory. In May 2003, the Army took steps to increase that arsenal
by modifying an existing contract with General Dynamics to add 980,064 rounds
of 20mm ammunition to 1.3 million rounds already delivered since December
In February 2004, General Dynamics was awarded an almost $11 million add-on
to an already existing contract for an extra 427,000 cannon rounds for the
AH-1 Cobra helicopter. In September 2006, General Dynamics was awarded a similar
nearly $14 million add-on for yet more 20mm ammunition; and, in April 2007,
$22 million for more of the same. That same month, the U.S. Army Sustainment
Command issued a "sources sought notice," looking for more arms manufacturers
willing to produce six million or more rounds of such ordnance with promises
of an "estimated 400% option over 5 years."
Yet, repeated inquiries about cannon rounds fired in Iraq prompted a CENTAF
spokesman to emphatically state in an email: "WE DO NOT REPORT CANNON ROUNDS."
Lt. Col. John Kennedy followed up, noting, "Glad to see you appreciate the tremendous
efforts [my subordinate] has already expended on you. Trust me, it's probably
much more significant than the relentless pursuit of the number of cannon rounds."
But the number of cannon rounds and rockets fired by U.S. aircraft is hardly
an insignificant matter. According to Les
Roberts, co-author of two surveys of mortality in Iraq published in the
British medical journal, The Lancet, "Rocket and cannon fire could
account for most coalition-attributed civilian deaths." He adds, "I find it
disturbing that they will not release this [figure], but even more disturbing
that they have not released such information to Congressmen who have requested
In 2004, Roberts himself witnessed the destruction caused by cannon fire
in Baghdad's vast Shiite slum, Sadr City. He recalls again and again passing
through 100-200 meter-wide areas of neighborhoods that had been raked by cannon
rounds. "It wasn't one house that was beat up," he recalled. "It would be
five, six, seven buildings in a row." Unlike bomb- and artillery-ravaged Ramadi
and Fallujah, Roberts noted:
"There weren't whole buildings knocked down. There were just big swaths
of many, many houses where every window was broken, where there were thousands
of pockmarks from cannon fire; not little dents, but huge chunks the size of
your fist out of the walls, and lampposts bent over because they lost their
integrity from being hit so many times."
This portrait of devastation is echoed in the words of journalist Ali al-Fadhily,
who told me that he had witnessed helicopter gunships in action, noting: "The
destruction they caused was always immense and casualties so many. They simply
destroy the target with every living soul inside. The smell of death comes
with those machines."
While the destructive capacity of helicopter gunships has been well-documented
and we have indications of the levels of ammunition available to the military,
the actual scale of use is hard to pin down. Flight hours are, however, another
indication. According to James Glantz of the New
York Times, Army helicopters logged 240,000 flight hours in Iraq in
2005, 334,000 in 2006, and projections for 2007 suggest that the figure will
reach 400,000. (And these numbers don't even include Marine Corps squadrons,
heliborne missions by private security contractors, or those of the nascent
Iraqi Air Force.)
Top Secret Information
While military press information officers continue to stonewall on the number
of cannon rounds fired by helicopters ("We cannot comment on your inquiry
due to operational security"), earlier this year Col. Robert A. Fitzgerald,
the Marine Corps' head of aviation plans and policy, was quoted in National
Defense Magazine on the subject. He claimed that, in 2006, "Marine
rotary-wing aircraft flew more than 60,000 combat flight hours, and fixed-wing
platforms completed 31,000. They dropped 80 tons of bombs and fired 80 missiles,
3,532 rockets and more than 2 million rounds of smaller ammunition." (When
asked if Col. Fitzgerald's admission endangered "operational security," a
military spokesman responded, "I cannot comment on the policies or release
authority of a Marine colonel.")
While Col. Fitzgerald's statistics presumably also include operations in
Afghanistan (where we know U.S. air power has been called upon ever more heavily),
they do remind U.S. that the minimalist figures regularly given out by CENTAF
hardly offer an accurate picture of the air war in Iraq. When combined with
the military's evasive non-answers, they are also a reminder of what a dearth
of information is actually available on even seemingly innocuous matters relating
to the air war in Iraq.
For example, from January through April, I posed questions to a Coalition
Press Information Center media contact one "SSG Wiley." After being rebuffed
on the topic of munitions expenditure, I asked, in January, about the total
number of "rotary-wing sorties" flown in 2006. The aptly-named Wiley responded
that s/he "sent it out to the relevant directorates and [was] awaiting a response....
I will contact you as soon as I get something." That turned out, despite follow-up,
to be never. Following a March 30th query regarding "the relevant directorates,"
s/he entreated me, by email, to drop my request for information. Facing the
reportorial void, I asked if Wiley would at least provide his/her full name
and title for attribution in this article. S/he has yet to respond.
The New Iraqi Air Force
Another little-talked about aspect of the air war is the modest emergence
of a new Iraqi Air Force (IAF). Until the first Gulf War, the Iraqi military
had a large air contingent, including hundreds of modern Russian and French
combat aircraft. Today, apparently owing to U.S. reluctance to put powerful
modern weaponry of any sort in Iraqi hands, the reconstituted IAF is a distinctly
less impressive force. Instead of advanced fighters and bombers, they fly
SAMA CH-2000 two-seat, single-engine prop airplanes, SB7L-360 Seeker reconnaissance
aircraft, a handful of C-130 Hercules turbo-prop cargo planes, and Bell 206
Ranger, UH-1HP "Huey" and Russian Mi-17 helicopters based
out of military installations in Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, and Taji.
Recently returning from a fact-finding mission in Iraq, undertaken in his
capacity as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy at West
Point, retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey called
for sending more aircraft, including 150 helicopters, to the Iraqi security
forces. In fact, the IAF recently did take delivery of newly refurbished helicopters
at Taji Air Base, is scheduled to receive new aircraft at Kirkuk, and has contracted
to add 28 new MI-17 helicopters in the near future.
The IAF may even be conducting full-scale air strikes of its own sometime
soon. As of April 1, 2007, five Iraqi Bell 206 Ranger pilots from its 12th
Squadron had already logged more than 188 combat hours. In a recent Air
Force Times article, Capt. Shane Werley, the chief American advisor
to the IAF's 2d Squadron, asserted that pilots he was working with would,
at an unspecified date, "be taking missions from the [Army's] 1st Cavalry
[Division at Taji]…. The bottom line is we're getting these guys back in the
The Scale of the Carnage
Just a few dogged reporters assigned to the air-power beat might, at least,
have offered some sense of the human fallout of this largely one-sided air war.
Since this has not been the case, we must rely on the best available evidence.
One valuable source
is the national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality in Iraq since
the 2003 invasion, published last year in The Lancet which used well-established
survey methods that have been proven
accurate in conflict zones from Kosovo to the Congo. (Interviewers actually
inspected death certificates in an overwhelming majority of the Iraqi households
Carried out by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School
of Public Health and Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University
in Baghdad, it estimated 655,000 "excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of
the war." The study also found that, from March 2003 through June 2006, 13%
of violent deaths in Iraq were caused by coalition air strikes. If the 655,000
figure, including over 601,000 violent deaths, is accurate, this would equal
approximately 78,133 Iraqis killed by bombs, missiles, rockets, or cannon
rounds up to last June.
There are also indications that the air war has taken an especially grievous
toll on Iraqi children. Figures provided by The Lancet study's authors
suggest that 50% of all violent deaths of Iraqi children under 15 years of
age in that same period were due to coalition air strikes. These findings
are echoed by Conservation Center of Environment & Reserves' statistics, indicating
that no fewer of 25 of the 59 Iraqis on their partial list of those killed
by air strikes during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah were children.
The Iraq Body Count Project
(IBC), a group of researchers based in the United Kingdom who maintain a public
database of Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from the war, carefully restricts
itself to media-documented reports of civilian fatalities. While its figures
are consequently much lower than The Lancet's currently, its tally
range stands at: 64,133-70,243 an analysis of its media-limited data offers
a glimpse of the human costs of the air war.
Statistics provided by the Iraq Body Count Project show that from 2003-2006,
coalition air strikes, according to media sources alone (which, as we know,
have covered the air war poorly), killed 3,615-4,083 people and left another
11,956-12,962 wounded. Last year, media reports listed between 169-200 Iraqis
killed and 111-112 injured in 28 separate coalition air strikes, according
to the IBC project. These numbers also appear to be on the rise. John Sloboda,
the project's spokesperson and co-founder notes by email that, during 2006,
the "vast majority" of lethal air strikes took place during the latter half
of the year.
Asked about the assertion that the second half of 2006 was deadlier for
Iraqis, due to U.S. air strikes, and the possible reasons for this, Lt. Col.
Kennedy waxed eloquent: "War, by its very nature, has ebbs and flows, and
we constantly review the application of airpower to best support the forces
on the ground in theater. We view this as simply part of our contract to the
warfighters. As we do not discuss operational aspects of missions, I'll decline
further comment." But recently, Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley
did admit that
he had "anecdotal evidence" suggesting "airpower is the most lethal of the
components in wrapping up bad guys." He continued, "As far as numbers of people
killed, as far as wrapping up bad guys and as far as delivering a kinetic
effect, the air component which also includes Marine and Navy air, by the
way is the most lethal of the components."
According to IBC's figures, during the first three months of 2007, U.S.
air attacks had already killed more than half as many civilians as had died
in all air strikes last year some 95-107 deaths; and publicly available
CENTAF statistics indeed do show a surge in close air-support missions
in 2007. For example, between March 24 and March 30, 2006, CENTAF reported
366 close air support missions. In 2007, the number for the same dates skyrocketed
to 437 an almost 20% jump.
The Secret of Why the Air War Is So Secret
Unfortunately, media reports on the air war are so sparse, with reporting
confined largely to reprinting U.S. military handouts and announcements of
air strikes, that much of the air war in Iraq remains unknown although
the very fact of an occupying power regularly conducting air strikes in and
near population centers should have raised a question or two. Echoing Ali
al-Fadhily's comments about the dearth of international observers in Iraq,
Garlasco of Human Rights Watch notes, "Because of the lack of security we've
had no one on the ground for three years now, and so we have no way of knowing
what's going on there." He adds, "It's a huge hole in all the human rights
But human rights organizations and other NGOs are just part of the story.
Since the Bush administration's invasion, the American air war has been given
remarkably short shrift in the media. Back in December 2004, Tom Engelhardt,
writing at Tomdispatch,
called attention to this glaring absence. Seymour Hersh's seminal piece on
air power, "Up
in the Air," published in the New Yorker in late 2005, briefly
ushered in some mainstream attention to the subject. And articles by Dahr
Jamail, an independent journalist who covered the American occupation of Iraq,
before and after
the Hersh piece, are among the smattering
of pieces that
have offered glimpses of the air campaign and its impact. To date, however,
the mainstream media has not, to use the words of Lt. Col. Kennedy, engaged
in a "relentless pursuit of the number of cannon rounds" fired or any other
aspect of the air war or its consequences for Iraqis.
Les Roberts especially laments just "how profoundly the press has failed
us" when it comes to coverage of the war. "In the first couple of years of
the war," he says, "our survey data suggest that there were more deaths from
bombs dropped by our planes than there were deaths from roadside explosives
and car bombs [detonated by insurgents]." The only group on the ground systematically
collecting violent death data at the time, the NGO Coordinating Committee
for Iraq, he notes, found the same thing. "If you had been reading the U.S.
papers and watching the U.S. television news at the time," Roberts adds, "you
would have gotten the impression that anti-coalition bombs were more numerous.
That was not just wrong, it probably was wrong by a factor of ten!"
With the military unwilling to tell the truth – or say anything at all,
in most cases and unable to provide the stability necessary for NGOs to
operate, it falls to the mainstream media, even at this late stage of the
conflict, to begin ferreting out substantive information on the air war. It
seems, however, that until reporters begin bypassing official U.S. military
pronouncements and locating Iraqi sources, we will remain largely in the dark
with little knowledge of what can only be described as the secret U.S. air
war in Iraq.
Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com.
He has written for the
Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village
Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch. A shorter version of this piece appears
in this week's Nation Magazine.
Copyright 2007 Nick Turse