U.S. and coalition forces dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan in 2019 – the war’s 18th year.
A report released by the U.S. Air Force Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) confirmed its manned and unmanned aircraft had released 7,423 weapons in 2019 over the course of 2,434 bombing missions. The number of weapons dropped in 2019 represents a continuous rise since 2016 and the highest number of bombs dropped in total since the Air Force began reporting the data in 2006.
The CFACC coordinates aerial activity and strikes by all U.S. aerial components and other coalition air components under its command. The CFACC in charge of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support Mission handles aerial missions specific to operations in Afghanistan, though the report noted that not all aircraft operating in the area fall under CFACC’s control.
The latest CFACC figures date back to 2013. The U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) had also released prior reports spanning 2012-2017 and 2009-2011.
A 2018 report of Air Force Central Command date compiled by Forbes claimed 2018 to have set the previous record for number of weapons dropped in Afghanistan in a year. That Forbes report lists figures dating back to 2004.
Before 2018 the previous record for bombs dropped was in 2010 when coalition forces dropped 5,000 weapons. That number of missions coincided with the 2010 troop surge, and in the years that followed, U.S. forces gradually began to hand over some responsibility to Afghan Security Forces.
By contrast, the number of weapons dropped throughout Operation Inherent Resolve – the ongoing mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria – has seen an exponential decrease from 39,577 weapons released in 2017, down to 8,713 in 2018 and 4,729 in 2019.
When President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he reportedly determined a new strategy for Afghanistan, which saw more troops deployed and a change in the rules of engagement for aerial assets, coordinated by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. At the time, certain restrictions existed over the use of aerial assets in Afghanistan, but some of those restrictions were removed, and the number of weapons dropped has since increased.
The change in bombing strategy has also come at a cost, according to a United Nations report, which determined that Afghan and U.S. bombing missions had killed more civilians than insurgents in the first half of 2019.
By July of 2019 the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) determined aerial operations caused 519 civilian casualties, including 363 deaths and 156 injuries. UNAMA determined that the number of injuries had decreased but the number of deaths had doubled, “highlighting the lethal character of this tactic.”
UNAMA determined 83 per cent of the civilian casualties resulted from aerial operations by International Military Forces, nine per cent to the Afghan Air Force, and the remaining eight per cent to undetermined Pro Afghan government forces.
The Trump administration scrapped efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban in September, following a deadly Taliban attack on U.S. forces in the country. Trump subsequently vowed to hit the Taliban harder than ever before and by the end of that month aerial assets had surpassed the previous 2010 bombing record.