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The language of US air strikes examined

Under President Donald Trump, US air strikes have tangibly increased, and the harm to civilians with it. In 2017, US-led coalition air strikes killed or injured at least 2,867 civilians in Iraq and Syria – an increase of 237% on the previous year. That year, air strikes were also carried out by the US across Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, leading to an additional 175 civilian casualties. Today, it does not look like an end to such loss is in sight. In 2018, the US Air Force was said to be flying as many as 70 drone missions a day, an increase from about 15 missions a day ten years before.[1]

How is it, though, that such a rise in air strikes, and the subsequent civilian harm caused, has rarely attracted media attention during Trump’s presidency? In part this is because the media is too busy unpicking the daily scandals of his private life and his Twitter outbursts. But it is also in part because the United States – its political leaders, its military officials, and its media – has a long and often uncomfortable history of manipulating language to justify its violent means.

In recent years, such political language has proved an invaluable tool in bolstering support for America’s global ‘counter-terrorism’ operations. The language used to justify the use of air strikes, the way the enemy is described, the emphasis on the accuracy and precision of bombs, and the manner in which the line between combatant and non-combatant has been blurred, have all helped the United States maintain support for a war that has dragged on and on.

Today – and in the recent past – phrases like ‘precision bombing’, ‘collateral damage’, ‘surgical strikes’, and ‘military intervention’ have been used to reduce and distract from the true devastation of modern-day air strikes on civilians. When the then-campaigning Trump said he would ‘bomb the shit’ out of ISIS, it was greeted with cheers from his many supporters.[2]

To some degree, the precedent for the use of such language in the US had long been set. During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, restricted access for journalists on the ground meant that global news coverage of the war was overwhelmingly controlled by the Bush administration and the Pentagon. The American media largely played along, serving as effective cheerleaders for the subsequent air campaign over Iraq.[3] One survey found the editorials of five major US newspapers ‘displayed considerable consensus in their views of the Middle East, its people, and the interests of the United States in the region’.[4]

The idea that you could minimise civilian casualties through the deployment of targeted air strikes became dogma. As President George H.W. Bush said in January 1991, ‘this will not be another Vietnam… this fighting will not go on for long and… casualties will be held to an absolute minimum’.[5] It was political rhetoric backed up by a Pentagon report that claimed the US’s ‘strategic air campaign minimised collateral damage and casualties to the civilian population, reflecting US policy that Saddam Hussein and his military machine, not the Iraqi people, were the enemy’.[6]

In reality, of course, US air strikes in Iraq resulted in immense collateral damage. Nobody knows how many civilians died in the First Gulf war, but estimates for civilian deaths range from 100,000 to 200,000, the blame for which the Pentagon shifted firmly onto the Iraqi military.[7] Despite this, large swathes of the media reported the bombardments uncritically. Air strikes were described, in turn, as ‘spectacular’, ‘a marvel’, and ‘picture-perfect’.[8] CNN correspondent John Holliman embraced the imagery of patriotism and bellicosity when, reporting live from Baghdad, he said: ‘it looks like the 4th of July display at the Washington memorial.’[9] Precedents were set. The Bush administration, in its propaganda during the Gulf War, influenced not only the 1991 response to the war but also counter-terror narratives that are still in use today.

On April 13, 2017, Donald Trump approved the deployment of a weapon described as ‘the Mother of All Bombs’ on an ISIS cave complex in Achin District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.[10] At 21,600 pounds, it was the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever deployed from the US arsenal.[11] Despite there being shock from the use of such a blunt force against an enemy that is renowned for being elusive, the US media response to its use was largely positive.

Perhaps predictably, Fox News’ reaction to the air strike was intensely nationalistic – footage of the bombing was overlaid with music from Toby Keith’s nationalist hymn: ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue’ – while anchor Ainsley Earhardt declared ‘that video’s black and white, but that is what freedom looks like.’[12] Afterwards, journalist Geraldo Rivera said that ‘watching bombs drop on bad guys’ was one of his favorite things during his 16 years at Fox.[13]

But it was not just Fox. NBC news’ Brian Williams quoted Leonard Cohen when he called the footage ‘beautiful pictures’, while CNN’s Fareed Zakaria declared ‘Donald Trump became President of the United States’ after the strikes.[14] Even after almost two decades of the War on Terror, it was clear that the fire and the fury of aerial bombs still wowed journalists, effectively silencing a more nuanced debate about proportionality, justification and consequence.

The Justification for Bombing

This was, in part, because of the way air strikes and bombing have – since 9/11 – been presented as the end justifying the means. The end, in the American narrative, is the protection of their entire way of life – a battle for freedom, security and liberty. The younger Bush administration approached the Global War on Terrorism with such a distinct message of American exceptionalism, defining the war’s scope with broad brush-strokes. Immediately following 9/11, President George W. Bush declared that America was targeted ‘because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world’.[15]

Accordingly, America’s response was – then and now – to frame the unfolding war as a battle between good and evil; Bush used ‘evil’ five times and ‘war’ twelve times in his 2002 State of the Union address.[16] It was a catchall phrase that kept the definition of ‘terrorism’ loose, and in so doing, laid the grounds for operational overreach. According to Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy, ‘the enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism’.[17] Additionally, it stated that the forthcoming war would ‘be fought on many fronts against a particularly elusive enemy over an extended period of time’.[18]

This was certainly the case: not only did Bush invade Afghanistan and Iraq, he ‘conducted pre-emptive operations outside the official sphere of armed conflict, especially in Pakistan, Africa, and the Philippines’.[19] This spread was predicted. As the dust settled over New York, President Bush’s top officials ‘cast aside diplomatic niceties’ and vowed violence. Stand with us, they said to the world, ‘or face the certain prospect of death and destruction.’[20] A few days later the US threatened to bomb Pakistan ‘back to the stone age’ unless it joined the fight against Al Qaeda.[21] It was part of a wider plan – President Bush had just let the CIA wage war globally, signing off on something called the ‘Worldwide Attack Matrix.’ It proposed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.[22] Sixteen years later that matrix was firmly in place, seemingly to the letter. In July 2017, a Pentagon press release announced ‘some 8,000 special operators are in 80 countries around the world.’[23] 80 countries: the matrix fully operational. Almost half of the planet had been dragged, one way or another, into the War on Terror.

In this War – a war fought to defend the very soul of America – any conventional weapon could be deployed, and all means utilised to stop the nebulous and shifting threat to that end.

The enemy

Within this war, the loose definition of the enemy created a blurring of the lines between combatants and civilians, one that influences military decisions today. Bush said after 9/11 that the United States would ‘make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them’.[24] It was a view echoed by President Trump when he said that ‘radical Islamic terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary.’[25]

Like Bush, Trump has presented the fight against terrorism as a battle between good and evil, while conflating what is unfolding in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Nigeria as part and parcel of the same problem.[26] Like Bush, Trump has blurred the line between combatant and civilian, stating early in his presidential campaign that ‘you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families’ because they ‘know what is going on’.[27] And, like Bush, Trump’s rhetoric deals in absolutes and is focused on destruction and total defeat. In a February 2017 Joint Address to Congress, Trump directed the Department of Defense to ‘demolish and destroy ISIS’ and echoed the idea of America under attack, declaring ‘we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists’.[28] He has also used his aggressive stance against terrorism as a political plus, once declaring that ‘if Hillary is President, [terrorism] would be disaster. If Trump is president, you will be very, very happy’.[29] Counter-terrorism has been, over time, transformed – not just into security necessity but even virtue.

The result of this rhetoric is, again, the justification for the use of ‘any means necessary’ to complete military objectives. It is a rationale that favours air strikes over ‘boots on the ground’, and believes that conventional warfare has a role to play in an unconventional conflict.

Hawks in the US administration have also demonized the enemy so as to drum up public support both for military intervention and for air strikes. After 9/11, the image of the jihadist was presented as one as animalistic and brutal. In a joint address to Congress, President Bush said terrorists would ‘burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places’ and that ‘they hide in your land’.[30] He portrayed the Taliban as a ‘barbaric group’ that needed to bombed out of existence.[31] Fast-forward sixteen years, and the same was happening. In November 2017, President Trump declared the perpetrator of that month’s New York City truck attack a ‘Degenerate Animal’.[32]

As well as portraying the enemy as animalistic, the US’ political and military leaders also frame terrorism as a new enemy, one that requires new tactics. In 2006, President Bush called the Global War on Terror an ‘unprecedented war against an enemy unlike any we had fought before’.[33] In 2009, Obama said ‘we had entered a new era’ with ‘new challenges’ requiring ‘new tools to protect the American people’.Since the old methods used in terror prevention had failed both before and after 9/11, the argument goes, novel tools such as drones or the Mother of All Bombs are necessary to challenge new evils.[35] An implicit trust would have to be fostered between government and nation to sell the advantages of initiating and carrying through this new warfare along with its ‘direct’ method and ‘precision’ tools. This new warfare is accompanied by an implicit trust in the benefits of technology and the way such technology is deployed. Not only does the new threat of terrorism require new physical tools, it requires a shifting of the entire paradigm through which counterterrorism policies are interpreted. In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush stated ‘it is no longer enough to serve our enemies with legal papers,’ pushing the nature of counterterrorism from a judicial to a military framing.[36]

This new enemy, one that is both animalistic and requires new weapons to defeat them, can – the logic follows – only be defeated through such things as air strikes using drones, the Mother of All Bombs, and precision-guided munitions. But rather than question the proportionality of such responses, the media’s coverage of these new military efforts has often been ambivalent, benign or supportive. The New Yorker, Der Speigel, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Guardian, and GQ[37], for instance, have all published articles that have focused on the personal lives of drone operators.[38] Drone warfare, in this way, is ‘brought home’. Its operators are seen as everyday people, just wanting to do good, making the impact of drone strikes more palatable to the media-consuming public.

It is a view of drone operatives not held by millions of Muslims around the word. Rather, the mutilated bodies of civilians in the rubble of homes destroyed by drone or air strikes are included as standard fare in jihadist propaganda. As is footage of an interview with a US Air Force Colonel, where he says civilian deaths are sometimes permissible if an important target is in the line of fire. Other jihadist videos shows Mark Galasco, former chief of high-value targeting at the Pentagon, saying that as many as thirty civilians could be killed in a high-value target strike before the Secretary of Defence or President had to be consulted.[39] Even a US Department of Homeland Security funded project found that ‘high-profile killings’ by their government, ‘either had no influence or were associated with a backlash effect.’[40]

Precision warfare

Within this language of American exceptionalism, the dualistic battle between good and evil, and the eternal threat to the security of the nation, one of the most notable ways that air strikes have been cast as a form of virtuous warfare lies in the notion that such weapons are precise, accurate and targeted. As one commentator summed up, precision-guided munitions play into the idea that the US military has ‘an extremely hyper-accurate picture of the battlefield’, where they can ‘strike directly and precisely’.[41] It is a framing that has led some American hawks to conclude that ‘aerospace power should be our weapon of choice because it is the most discriminate, prudent, and risk-free weapon in our arsenal’.[42]

The truth, of course, is far from that.

First of all, the introduction of precision-guided munitions expanded – not reduced – the number of acceptable targets for air strikes. The US Army Field Manual, in effect since 1956, defined a military objective as one contributing to military action, while the new doctrine, introduced in 1999 by the Naval War College, requires only contribution to military capability.[43] Having weapons that were seen to be capable of precision strikes, it can be argued, has fuelled their use, leading to more – not less – military intervention, with sadly predictable results for civilians.

Second, as Lt. Colonel Jill Long of the United States Air Force has written, ‘the term ‘precision’ does not imply, as one might assume, accuracy, but more refers to a ‘discriminate targeting’ process. ‘By using a word that has such specific meaning in the mind of most civilians,’ she said, ‘it is easy to see how a gap in understanding and expectations has been fostered.’[44]

Third, ‘precision’ also ignores the fact that a drone or air strike on a would-be suicide bomber can go terribly wrong because of electronic countermeasures, sandstorms, poor weather, or human operators making mistakes. And it fails to properly convey just how imprecise air strikes are in the first place. The accuracy of a weapon is gauged by what is termed the ‘Circular Error Probability’ (CEP). What this means is that, in tests, a number of missiles are fired – an imaginary circle is then drawn around the 50 percent of strikes that land closest to the target. This circle becomes the CEP and its radius defines the weapon’s accuracy. The bombs that hit outside that circle are ignored, even if they land miles away. Furthermore, such testing is carried out by the manufacturers, not impartial observers, and then backed up by militaries that arguably have a vested interest in saying they are using precise weapons of war. Precision, then, is a judgement call heavily influenced by the logic of securing a sale – something all too often blind to ethical consideration.

Fourth, even if a government’s bombs hit their targets, those bombs cause shrapnel capable of eviscerating anything over a significant distance. As one drone pilot described, his payload could ‘slice and dice anyone within a twenty-foot radius… Even those out to fifty feet might not escape its wrath.’[45] The US military field manual says that ‘safe distances for unprotected troops are approximately 1,000 meters for 2000-pound bombs and half a kilometre for 500-pound ones. Even protected troops are not entirely safe within 240 meters of a 2,000-pound bomb.’[46] To the civilian population, missing a target may mean a terrible tragedy with significant collateral damage, but to the military, a miss may simply signify a failure to hit a target by 500 feet but still land it within the effective confines of the battlefield.[47] It was – for instance – said that, when dropping ‘the Mother of All Bombs’, the US military ‘took all the precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation’, even though the blast radius was immense.[48]

Finally, there is an issue of ‘optics’. When nose-cam footage from precision-guided munitions are released to the press, the administration is able to control the image of war as being ‘precise’. The media uses the footage that is offered to them – the attack that is clear and without confusion, the same bombing dropping on a clearly identifiable target miles away from habitation. Never the one that sees a bomb land near a market place or a block of flats. And over time, the Western perspective of war comes from the view of the weapons themselves, not that of the combatants or victims.[49] This presents war as scientific, exact and determined – not bloody, anguished and prone to senseless tragedy.

Civilian casualties

Such a framing of ‘precise’ aerial weapons have consequences. For years, the standard US military mantra is that precision weapons prevent ‘collateral damage’ in its operations, and that any civilian casualties incurred are the result of external factors, not their tactics. According to the Combined Joint Task Force fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, ‘the Coalition’s goal is always for zero human casualties… We apply rigorous standards to our targeting process and take extraordinary efforts to protect non-combatants’.[50]

Yet, the truth is that ‘surgical strikes’, which allowed the CIA to carry out attacks solely based on whether the target exhibited behaviour indicative of militancy (even if that target was unknown), often kills civilians.[51] So predictable, indeed, have civilian deaths been that is has led some to conclude there is ‘a dark shadow on claims that CIA drones are proportional.’[52] At the time of that July 2017 press release, the US-led force had already reportedly killed at least 603 civilians. AOAV’s data would have it over four times that.

Other concerns persist. A team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, for instance, established in 2014 that fewer than four percent of those people killed in drone strikes on Pakistan were named members of Al Qaeda, calling into question then US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that only ‘confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level’ were fired at.[53] The team also raised major concerns about the legality of such strikes over foreign soil;[54] about whether ‘double tap’ drone strikes were targeting the rescuers of the initial attacks;[55] and whether drones were being used to extra judicially kill European nationals.[56]

When challenged on the reality of its proportionality and accuracy, the US military narrative has shifted again and again. After the March 2017 air strike in Mosul killed over 200 civilians, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said they were combating an enemy that ‘hides behind women and children.’ It was the enemy’s fault, in other words, that civilians were being killed. The US, he stressed, ‘go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people’.[57]

Yet again, such statements have been shown to be hyperbole. A 2017 investigation established that, since 9/11, the Pentagon has failed to publicly list a substantial number of its air strikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – hardly the open transparency of an organisation doing ‘everything humanly possible’.[58] Besides, any man killed by a US drone who is of combatant age is automatically said to be a terrorist, not a civilian, so there is always that ‘get out’ argument when an adult male is killed.[59]

Over time, such rhetoric shifts blame onto the enemy, not the military carrying out the strike. It is less concerned with the dead civilians and more in the painting of terrorists as the cause of death. Indeed, the virtue of not killing civilians is seen by some as secondary; the late senator John McCain, Representative Martha McSally, and a number of high-ranking US generals, have gone on record saying that the prevention of civilian casualties rendered the air campaign against ISIS ineffectual.[60] According to McSally, ‘we’re allowing the Islamic State to continue to commit atrocities and murder against the people on the ground.’ While retired Air Force Lt. General Dave Deptula continued to shift blame for civilian casualties, saying ‘if [ISIS] are using human shields, and those very unfortunate individuals get killed, that responsibility and blood lies on the hands of [ISIS]’.[61]

The US approach to air-power, then, is marked by an oftentimes compliant or supportive media; a framing of the enemy as demonic and evil; a justification for the use of heavy force to protect the heart and people of America; an argument that desperate times require desperate measures; a belief in the virtue and capacity of precision weaponry, without acknowledging how imprecise such bombs are; and a framing of any civilians killed in their operations as being the fault of the enemy and not a result of disproportionate tactics.

The outcome of this is sadly predictable. For almost a decade AOAV has been tracking civilian harm from explosive violence and whether it is American bombs or Russian bombs or Saudi bombs, the pattern of harm is clear. When explosive weapons are dropped on towns and cities, over 90% of those killed or injured will be civilians. This is a fact that persists. One that challenges all the narratives, all the optics, all the media hype that often accompanies a US air strike.

The truth remains. Air strikes, particularly over populated areas, are disproportionate. They kill and maim civilians – men, women, children alike. And, in the end, they take so many lives that they raise the question: in this War on Terror, when air strikes are used and, again and again, innocents are killed, who – in the end – is wielding the weapons of Terror?


Liam Timmons is at George Mason University. He also works for Rise to Peace in Washington, DC, where he writes on terrorism and violent extremism. 

Iain Overton is the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence


[1] Greg Jaffe, “The watchers: Airmen who surveil the Islamic State never get to look away.” Washington Post, July 6, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-watchers-airmen-who-surveil-the-islamic-state-never-get-to-look-away/2017/07/06/d80c37de-585f-11e7-ba90-f5875b7d1876_story.html

[2] Youtube, Nov 12, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWejiXvd-P8

[3] Douglas Kellner, ‘The Persian Gulf TV War Revisited,’ in Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime, ed. Stuart Allan and Barbie Zelizer (Oxford:, Routledge, 2004), 136-154.

[4] Everette E. Dennis et al., The Media at War: The Press and the Persian Gulf Conflict (New York City, Gannett Foundation, 1991), 53.

[5] George H.W. Bush, ‘Transcript of the Comments by Bush on the Air Strikes Against the Iraqis’ (speech, Washington, DC, January 16, 1991), New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/17/us/war-gulf-president-transcript-comments-bush-air-strikes-against-iraqis.html (accessed July 31, 2018).

[6] Human Rights Watch, ‘Needless Deaths in the Gulf War: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War,’ 1991, https://www.hrw.org/reports/1991/gulfwar/index.htm (accessed July 31, 2018).

[7] Human Rights Watch, ‘Needless Deaths in the Gulf War: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War,’ 1991, https://www.hrw.org/reports/1991/gulfwar/index.htm (accessed July 31, 2018) and BBC News, ‘Flashback: 1991 Gulf War’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2754103.stm

[8] Jim Naureckas, ‘Gulf War Coverage: The Worst Censorship was at Home,’ FAIR, April 1991, https://fair.org/extra/gulf-war-coverage/ (accessed July 31, 2018).

[9] David Fairhall, ‘Allied Planes Bomb Iraq: Kuwait’s Liberation Begun, Says US,’ The Guardian, 17 January 1991, https://www.theguardian.com/world/1991/jan/17/iraq.davidfairhall (accessed July 31, 2018).

[10] Helene Cooper and Mujib Mashal, ‘U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan,’ New York Times, April 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/world/asia/moab-mother-of-all-bombs-afghanistan.html (accessed August 8, 2018).

[11] Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, ‘First on CNN: US Drops Largest Non-Nuclear Bomb in Afghanistan,’ CNN, April 14, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/afghanistan-isis-moab-bomb/index.html (accessed August 8, 2018).

[12] Amber Jamieson, ‘Fox News Sets Afghanistan Bombing to Toby Keith Song as Other Outlets Voice Doubt,’ The Guardian, April 14, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/apr/14/fox-news-afghanistan-bombing-media-reaction (accessed August 8, 2018).

[13] Amber Jamieson, ‘Fox News Sets Afghanistan Bombing to Toby Keith Song as Other Outlets Voice Doubt,’ The Guardian, April 14, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/apr/14/fox-news-afghanistan-bombing-media-reaction (accessed August 8, 2018).

[14] Amber Jamieson, ‘Fox News Sets Afghanistan Bombing to Toby Keith Song as Other Outlets Voice Doubt,’ The Guardian, April 14, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/apr/14/fox-news-afghanistan-bombing-media-reaction (accessed August 8, 2018).

[15] George W. Bush, ‘The Text of President Bush’s Address Tuesday Night, After Terrorist Attacks on New York and Washington’ (speech, Washington, DC, September 11, 2001), CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/bush.speech.text/ (accessed August 1, 2018).

[16] Robert M. Entman, ‘Cascading Activation: Contesting the White House’s Frame After 9/11,’ Political Communication 20, no. 4 (2003): 416.

[17] George W. Bush, ‘Full Text: Bush’s National Security Strategy,’ New York Times, September 20, 2002, https://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/20/politics/full-text-bushs-national-security-strategy.html (accessed August 1, 2018).

[18] George W. Bush, ‘Full Text: Bush’s National Security Strategy,’ New York Times, September 20, 2002, https://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/20/politics/full-text-bushs-national-security-strategy.html (accessed August 1, 2018).

[19] Mark Barnett, ‘American Exceptionalism and the Construction of the War on Terror: An Analysis of Counterterrorism Policies Under Clinton, Bush, and Obama,’ Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, http://insct.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Barnett_American-Exceptionalism_and_the_Construction_of_the_War_on-Terror-mwedit111716.pdf (accessed August 1, 2018).

[20] R W Apple Jr, “After the Attacks: News Analysis, No Middle Ground,” New York Times, September 14, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/14/us/after-the-attacks-news-analysis-no-middle-ground.html

[21] BBC News, “US ‘threatened to bomb’ Pakistan,” September 22, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/5369198.stm

[22] Bob Woodward and Dan Balz, “At Camp David, Advise and Dissent,” Washington Post, January 31, 2002, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/18/AR2006071800702.html

[23] Jim Garamone, “Special Ops Capabilities Relevant Around the World, Commander Says,” US Department of Defense News, July 22, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1255158/special-ops-capabilities-relevant-around-the-world-commander-says/

[24] Bush, ‘Address’.

[25] Eliza Relman, ‘Trump says ‘radical Islamic terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary’ in wake of Barcelona attack’, Business Insider, August 18, 2017.

[26] Barnett, ‘American Exceptionalism’.

[27] Hamid Dabashi, ‘Is Trump Committing War Crimes in Iraq and Syria?,’ Al Jazeera, July 1, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/06/trump-committing-war-crimes-iraq-syria-170625104609942.html (accessed August 2, 2018); Emily Atkin, ‘Trump: I Would Intentionally Kill Families to Defeat ISIS,’ ThinkProgress, December 16, 2015, https://thinkprogress.org/trump-i-would-intentionally-kill-families-to-defeat-isis-b5484a36a7a2/ (accessed August 2, 2018).

[28] Donald Trump, ‘Remarks by President Trump in Joint Address to Congress,’ (speech, Washington, DC, February 28, 2018), White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-joint-address-congress/ (accessed August 2, 2018).

[29] Johnson and DelReal, ‘Trump Vows’.

[30] George W. Bush, ‘Text: Bush Announces Strikes Against Taliban,’ (speech, Washington, DC, October 7, 2001), Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_100801.htm (accessed August 4, 2018).

[31] Ibid.

[32] Donald Trump, Twitter post, November 3, 2017, 5:03 a.m., https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/926419647708258304?lang=en (accessed August 4, 2018).

[33] George W. Bush, ‘President Bush Delivers Remarks on Terrorism,’ (speech, Washington, DC, September 6, 2006), Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/06/AR2006090601425.html (accessed August 4, 2018).

[34] Barack Obama, ‘Remarks by the President on National Security, 5-21-09,’ (speech, Washington, DC, May 21, 2009), White House, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-national-security-5-21-09 (accessed August 4, 2018).

[35] Andrew Pilecki, ‘Moral Exclusion and the Justification of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy: Bush, Obama, and the Terrorist Enemy Figure,’ Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 20, no. 3 (2014): 292.

[36] George W. Bush, ‘Text of President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Address,’ (speech, Washington, DC, January 20, 2004), Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/transcripts/bushtext_012004.html (accessed August 4, 2018).

[37] Elisabeth Bumiller, ‘A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away,’ New York Times, July 29, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/us/drone-pilots-waiting-for-a-kill-shot-7000-miles-away.html (accessed August 6, 2018); Ed Pilkington, ‘Life as a Drone Operator: ‘ Ever Step on Ants and Never Give it Another Thought?’’ The Guardian, November 19, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/18/life-as-a-drone-pilot-creech-air-force-base-nevada (accessed August 6, 2018); Matthew Power, ‘Confessions of a Drone Warrior,’ GQ, October 22, 2013, https://www.gq.com/story/drone-uav-pilot-assassination (accessed August 6, 2018).

[38] Roger Stahl, ‘What the Drone Saw: The Cultural Optics of the Unmanned War,’ Australian Journal of International Affairs 67, no. 5 (2013): 671.

[39] Mark Benjamin, “When is an accidental civilian death not an accident?” Salon, July 30, 2007, https://www.salon.com/2007/07/30/collateral_damage/

[40] Jennifer Varriale Carson, “Assessing the Effectiveness of High‐Profile Targeted Killings in the “War on Terror”,” Criminology & Public Policy 16, no. 1 (2017): 191-220.

[41] Matthew Rosenberg, ‘It’s Not Like Hollywood: Why U.S. Airstrikes Go Awry,’ New York Times, September 20, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/world/middleeast/collateral-damage-why-us-airstrikes-go-awry.html (accessed August 9, 2018).

[42] Timothy R. Reese, ‘Precision Firepower: Smart Bombs, Dumb Strategy,’ Military Review 83, no. 4 (2003): 50.

[43] Henry Shue, ‘Targeting Civilian Infrastructure With Smart Bombs: The New Permissiveness,’ Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly 30, no. 3/4 (2010): 3-4.

[44] Jill A Long, “The Problem with Precision: Managing Expectations for Air Power” (Master of Strategic Studies Thesis, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, 2013).

[45] Matt J Martin and Charles W Sasser. Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan – A Pilot’s Story (Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, 2010).

[46] Field Manual 3-19.40: Tactics, Techniques, And Procedures for Fire Support For the Combined Arms Commander (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 1 August 2001).

[47] William M. Arkin, ‘Smart Bombs, Dumb Targeting?’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 56, no. 3 (2000): 49.

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