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    Middle East
     Feb 8, 2007
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Bombs away over Baghdad
By Nick Turse

A secret air war is being waged in Iraq - often in and around that country's population centers - about which we can find out little. The US military keeps information on the munitions expended in its air efforts under tight wraps, refusing to offer details on the scale of use and so minimizing the importance of air power in Iraq. But expert opinion holds that the forms of aerial assault being employed in that country, though hardly covered in the US media, may account for most of the Iraqi civilian deaths attributed

to the US-led coalition since the 2003 invasion.

While some aspects of the air war remain a total mystery, US Air Force (USAF) officials do acknowledge that US military and coalition aircraft dropped at least 50,000 kilograms of bombs on targets in Iraq in 2006. This figure, 177 bombs in all, does not include guided missiles and unguided rockets fired, or cannon rounds expended; nor, according to a US Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) spokesman, does it take into account the munitions used by some Marine Corps and other coalition aircraft or any of the US Army's helicopter gunships. Moreover, it does not include munitions used by the armed helicopters of the many private security contractors flying their own missions in Iraq.

Air war, Iraq: 2006
In statistics provided to Tomdispatch, CENTAF reported a total of 10,519 "close-air-support missions" in Iraq in 2006, during which its aircraft dropped 177 bombs and fired 52 "Hellfire/Maverick missiles". These air strikes presumably included numerous highly publicized missions ranging from the January 2006 air strike outside the town of Baiji that reportedly "killed a family of 12", including at least three women and three young children, to the December attack on an insurgent safe house in the Garma area, near Fallujah, that reportedly killed "two women and a child" in addition to five guerrillas.

Then there were the even less well-remembered events, such as those on July 28 when, according to official reports, a USAF Predator unmanned aerial vehicle destroyed an "anti-Iraqi forces" vehicle with Hellfire missiles, while USAF F-16 Fighting Falcons "expended a GBU-12, destroying an anti-Iraqi forces location", both in the vicinity of the city of Ramadi.

The latter weapon, Guided Bomb Unit-12, a laser-guided bomb with a 500-pound (227kg) general-purpose warhead, was the most frequently used bomb in Iraq in 2006, according CENTAF statistics provided to Tomdispatch. In addition to the 95 GBU-12s "expended", 67 satellite-guided, 500-pound GBU-38s and 15 2,000-pound (907kg) GBU-31/32 munitions were also dropped on Iraqi targets last year, according to official USAF figures.

One weapon conspicuously left out of this total is rockets - such as the 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rocket that can be outfitted with various warheads and is fired from fixed-wing aircraft and most helicopters. The number of rockets fired is withheld from the press so as, according to a CENTAF spokesman, not to "skew the tally and present an inaccurate picture of the air campaign".

The number of rockets fired may be quite significant as, according to a 2005 press release issued by Democratic US Senator Patrick Leahy, who helped secure a US$900 million Hydra contract from the US 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". Early last year, Sandra I Erwin of National Defense magazine noted that the US military was looking to the Hydra to serve as a low-cost weapon for Iraq's urban areas. "The army already buys and stockpiles thousands of the 2.75-inch Hydra rockets, and is seeking to equip as many as 73,000 with the laser kits, under a program called 'advanced precision kill weapon system', or APKWS. The navy would purchase 8,000 for Marine Corps helicopters," she wrote.

The number of cannon rounds fired - some models of the AC-130 gunship, for instance, have a Gatling gun that can fire up to 1,800 rounds in a single minute - is also a closely guarded secret. The official reason given is that "Special Forces often use aircraft such as the AC-130" and since "their missions and operations are classified, so therefore these figures are not released".

Repeated inquiries concerning another reporter's statistics on cannon rounds fired by CENTAF aircraft prompted the same official to state emphatically in an e-mail: "WE DO NOT REPORT CANNON ROUNDS." His superior officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnn Kennedy, the deputy director of CENTAF public affairs, 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 US aircraft is not an insignificant matter, according to Les Roberts, formerly an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization in Rwanda during that country's civil war and an expert on the human costs of the war in Iraq. According to Roberts, who was last in Iraq in 2004 (where, he says, he personally witnessed "the shredding of entire blocks" in Baghdad's Sadr City by aerial cannon fire), "rocket and cannon fire could account for most coalition-attributed civilian deaths". He added, "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 it."

Non-CENTAF military officials were equally tight-lipped about such munitions - at least with me. A public affairs officer from US Central Command told me that the command didn't track such information. When I questioned a coalition spokesman in Baghdad about the number of rockets and cannon rounds fired by US Army and Marine Corps helicopters in Iraq in 2006, I was told, "We cannot comment on your inquiry due to operational security."

I then pointed out that just last month, in National Defense magazine, Colonel Robert A Fitzgerald, the Marine Corps's head of aviation plans and policy, was quoted as saying 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 whether this admission had endangered operational security, the spokesman responded, "I cannot comment on the policies or release authority of a marine colonel."

While the Marine Corps's statistics presumably include totals of munitions used in Afghanistan, where US air power has played a

Continued 1 2

How the US Army's being worn down in Iraq (Feb 7, '07)

Hopeless, but not serious (Feb 6, '07)

Now it's official: Iraq's a mess (Feb 6, '07)

Air war, barbarity and the Middle East (Aug 1, '06)


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