How Precise Are Precision Bombs?
Watching Michael Fallon on Andrew Marr yesterday I was struck by the frequency with which he used the word “precision” to describe the potential bombing in Syria. He was clearly briefed to do so to paint a picture of bombs which pose little threat to the civilian population of Syria. Almost conjuring up an image of a bomb smart enough to turn back at the sight of a school, or to pause feet from the ground and conduct a brief questionnaire with the potential victim.
This language is used to make us think that we can go over there and help the good guys without much collateral damage. This is important not just because most think it is morally wrong to kill civilians but also because killing civilians acts as a recruitment tool for the terrorists. So it important that potential casualties are perceived to be low for both moral and practical reasons.
Also, it could be perceived as hypocritical, or at least selfish, to knowingly engage in an act that will kill innocent people abroad to protect lives here. Especially if nobody has actually been killed here by ISIS. In fact as we have discussed before you are more likely to be killed by a wasp than a terrorist.
The word precision is repeated by politicians as it sinks into our subconscious and helps to numb the angst caused by the spectre of potential innocent casualties. The use is deliberately misleading as Fallon and his ilk must know that there will likely be many civilian causalities. The statistics speak for themselves:
- During Operation Dessert Storm, at most 60% of bombs hit their target.
- In Kosovo, there were 58 successful strikes out of 750 attacks. There was one civilian death for every ten tons of bombing which was close to WW2 levels. British Accuracy with smart bombs was 40 percent. Depending on the source, there were between 500 and 5000 civilians killed during the bombing. In the worst case scenario that’s 10 civilians for one Enemy.
- During the invasion of Iraq, US precision ordinance managed to actually miss Iraq a couple of times, hitting Turkey and Iran. Civilian casualties from smart bombs killed 50 people a day in the first two weeks of the second Iraq War which is three times as lethal as the 1991 invasion. We know that two thirds of the 174,000 casualties in the Iraq war were civilian and many of them would have been killed by precision bombs.
- As of Jan 2013, of the 700 people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, only 14 have been Taliban. Research by the Brooking’s Institute suggests that around 10 civilians are killed for every Taliban fighter killed.
Collateral bombing damage happens so frequently that it would be impossible to list every example. Most are low key and unreported. A few high profile examples include:
- During the Kosovo War, Nato bombed a train of Albanian Refugees Killing 73 people.
- In 1999, Nato bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade sparking an international incident.
- In 2002 the USA bombed an Afghan wedding party killing 48 people.
- This year the USA bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan killing 30 people.
During the Nato Bombing of Libya in 2011, 72 civilians were killed, half of whom were women and children. This is a low amount given that over 7000 bombs were dropped.
However, anyone voting to bomb Syria this week should be honest with the public and acknowledge that the Libyan figures would be a best case scenario and we are most likely to see a higher civilian death rate. This is due to the tendency of ISIS to mingle in public buildings such as tower blocks and schools. Those making the decision to bomb need to ask how many innocent Syrian people they are willing to kill in order to keep us safe. And how many Syrians can die before recruitment to ISIS starts to increase. They should certainly stop misleading us by using words like precision.
Many of the facts contained in this article are from a more detailed article entitled, “The Myth of Precision Bombing” posted in the Defence Review.
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