For Trump, 2017 has already been an explosive year: The U.S. has said it dropped over 2,400 bombs on Afghanistan, up from 1,337 last year. In the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has already dropped 32,801 bombs, compared with 30,743 in 2016. And the U.S. has also conducted more than 100 strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen in 2017, compared with 38 in 2016.
Trump did promise in a campaign speech in 2015 to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, and he seems to be living up to his word—with little regard for the consequences.
Under Trump, civilian casualties from America’s war on ISIS have reached an all-time high in Iraq and Syria.
The pace of air attacks has led to dozens of civilian deaths, watchdogs say. From 28 to 88 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. And Airwars, which tracks international airstrikes against ISIS, estimated that U.S.-led airstrikes killed 1,060 civilians in Iraq and Syria in August 2017, compared with 138 in August 2016.
In its worst month, March 2017, it’s estimated the Trump administration killed 1,881. (The Pentagon admitted in May that a single airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, was responsible for 100 of these deaths.) In contrast, President Barack Obama’s bloodiest month, July 2016, claimed the lives of 312, according to Airwars.
The number of airstrikes is expected to climb as 4,000 reinforcements head to the country to aid the 11,000 U.S. troops already stationed in Afghanistan. One stated goal of the surge is to help identify bombing targets. And the CIA is pushing for expanded authority to conduct covert drone strikes in Afghanistan, which could place U.S. troops in danger.
There are some upsides to the air war. ISIS, for example, controls a significantly smaller territory in Iraq and Syria, military officials say.
The increase in bombing under Trump stems from a decision to allow the military greater authority over when to push the button. But the president is arguably not considering the higher numbers of civilian casualties.
Terrorist groups use U.S. airstrikes to “frame Americans as immoral bullies who care less about ordinary people than Al-Qaeda does,” said Dr. Audrey Cronin, professor at the School of International Service at American University. “The United States is losing the war of perceptions, a key part of any counterterrorism campaign,” Cronin added.
In that sense, Trump’s bombs could be backfiring.