When discussing his bombing strategy, Donald Trump has made some audacious claims in the past. Speaking about America’s fight against ISIS, Trump stated that: “I would bomb the sh*t out of ’em. I would just bomb those suckers. That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. … I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”
Many eyebrows were raised at this statement, as it seems aggressive in comparison to Barack Obama’s relatively peaceful presidency. But was Barack Obama really the pacifist he was depicted as in the media?
A recently released report from Statista has shown that Obama’s decisions regarding military intervention were anything but passive. Many credible sources have stated that the number of airstrikes carried out by US forces actually increased under Obama’s presidency.
The Independent has reported that in Obama’s final year as president, the number of bombs dropped by the US went higher still. America’s military forces dropped 3,000 more bombs in 2016, which takes the total number of bombs dropped to at least 26,171. As The Guardian rightly pointed out, “this means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.”
What’s more, the figures released may have been underestimated. The only reliable data was provided by Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Additionally, multiple bombs can be classed as one “strike”, according to the Pentagon. The vast majority of bombs dropped by US forces were in Syria and Iraq, according to Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Although the number of bombs dropped has increased, Obama reduced the number of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, the former president also supported the use of unmanned air-strikes outside war-zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and included Pakistan and Yemen in these air-strikes. Additionally, Zenko’s research indicated that US forces dropped 79% of 30,743 coalition bombs in 2016.
It’s concerning to note the move from a physical military presence to increased airstrikes. One major flaw with the use of airstrikes is collateral damage. The airstrike may injure or kill the target, but civilian casualties are frighteningly common.
An infographic created by Pitch Interactive summarises the impact of drone strikes seen in Pakistan from 2004 to 2013. As you can see, when the number of airstrikes is increased, the deaths of civilian children increases too.
Since 2004, it is estimated that 3,213 people have been killed in Pakistan due to drone strikes, but less than two per cent of the victims are high-profile targets. What’s more, you can see that from 2009, the year Obama becomes President, drone strikes become far more common.
In June 2011, former deputy chief of the CIA John Brennan spoke about the benefits of drone strikes: “One of the things President Obama has insisted on is that we’re exceptionally precise and surgical in terms of addressing the terrorist threat. And by that I mean, if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.” As the infographic above shows, this claim is inherently false.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism stated that: “Obama embraced the US drone programme, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency. A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush. Between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in those countries.”
As you can see, Obama’s support for multiple drone programmes resulted in an unimaginable amount of death and destruction. Although the Obama administration claims the strikes are “surgical and precise”, this is clearly not the case.
Donald Trump has consistently focused on improving the perception of the military, and has promised to give the American military more power during his presidency. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s stance on military intervention will continue in the same vein. However, it’s worrying to think that overseas military invention could increase even further.