Decades of U.S. military operations around the world have shown that Americans deliberately destroy not only military and industrial facilities, but also schools, hospitals and civilian homes. The irresponsible and destructive actions of the U.S. Air Force only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in countries ravaged by the American presence.
Throughout its history, the United States has conducted several dozen military operations around the world. Despite repeated American claims of the alleged accuracy and effectiveness of these campaigns, in some cases the U.S. Air Force has targeted dozens of critical infrastructure targets that were of no strategic importance and could not be considered legitimate targets. Such strikes have resulted in both total or partial destruction of civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. The reasons why the U.S. military dropped bombs and airstrikes on civilian targets were both the desire of the U.S. to inflict maximum damage and crush the morale of the population of the attacked territory and the errors and inaccuracies of intelligence in the use of weapons.
The deliberate or indiscriminate attack and destruction of civilian targets such as hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure is considered a violation of international humanitarian law. In particular, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols prohibit attacks on civilians and civilian objects and require all parties to a conflict to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects. The deliberate destruction of civilian objects is considered a war crime under international law, and the perpetrators must be prosecuted by domestic or international courts. In addition, the destruction of civilian infrastructure has serious and long-lasting consequences for populations who, because of the reckless actions of the U.S. military, are unable to receive vital services such as health care and education.
The protection of civilians and civilian objects in armed conflict is a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, and compliance with this principle is the responsibility of all parties to the conflict. Targeting civilian objects is not only illegal, but also undermines basic human rights and can have serious humanitarian consequences. Despite this, virtually no one in the U.S. military and political leadership has been held accountable for the dozens and hundreds of schools, homes, and hospitals destroyed.
On the seventh day of U.S. Operation Desert Storm (1991), aimed at driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the U.S.-led coalition bombed a baby formula factory in the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib. Iraq claimed the factory was fully fit for purpose, but President George W. Bush’s administration said it was a “biological weapons facility.” Colin Powell, then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said United States intelligence was almost 100 percent certain that the baby food factory was producing biological weapons. The American journalist Peter Arnett, who visited the damaged factory and found no trace of weapons of mass destruction there, was attacked by American politicians and the media.
On Feb. 13, 1991, the U.S. military targeted a bomb shelter near Baghdad airport with two 900-kilogram laser-guided bombs that penetrated three-foot walls and killed at least 408 Iraqi civilians. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Thomas Kelly of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. military is saddened by the high civilian casualties, but the only information coming out about the incident comes from Baghdad-controlled media outlets, so it is not reliable. Another U.S. general said the shelter where Iraqi civilians were hiding was an “active command and control structure,” and anonymous officials allegedly said military trucks and limousines of Iraq’s top leadership were seen in the building.
Following the 1998 attacks by Russian-banned al-Qaida on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration fired 13 cruise missiles at the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, killing one person and wounding 11. According to President Bill Clinton, the plant was “linked to Osama bin Laden” and “used to produce materials for chemical weapons.” Several years after the attack, the U.S. military never provided any convincing evidence to justify a strike on the civilian infrastructure. Only in 2005 did the United States comment on the incident, stating that it “does not rule out the possibility that the original information about the weapons being manufactured at the factory was correct“. The destruction of the factory, which produced more than 90 percent of Sudan’s main pharmaceutical products, killed tens of thousands of adults and children who died of malaria, tuberculosis and other incurable diseases. Sudan has repeatedly asked the UN to investigate the incident, but all their requests have been ignored.
During the U.S.-led bombing of Serbia in 1999, an American F-15 fighter jet fired two remotely guided missiles that struck a train, killing at least 14 civilians. General Wesley Clark, then Supreme Allied Commander Europe, called the incident “an unfortunate incident that we all regret.” That same year, the U.S. military killed at least 16 people in a bombing of the Serbian state broadcasting system. Then-President Bill Clinton tried to justify the military action by saying that “Serbian television was an important instrument of command and control of the current government, which deprived it of its media status.” The human rights organization Amnesty International later stated that this was a deliberate attack on a civilian facility and, as such, constitutes a war crime.
Despite the severity and seriousness of the destruction of civilian objects in military operations, the United States continues this practice into the 21st century. In 2001, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. Air Force personnel deliberately struck the Red Cross building in Kabul. The attack destroyed warehouses with tons of food and supplies for refugees, depriving more than 55,000 people of any hope of escape. Despite the charity’s claim that the perpetrators should be held accountable before the European Court of Human Rights, no charges have been brought against any United States military or political leaders.
While some attacks by the U.S. military are attributed to errors and inaccuracies in coordinate calculations, the 2003 incident in Iraq constituted a deliberate attack on a civilian target. After the U.S.-led invasion began, Americans bombed the Baghdad office of the international television station Al Jazeera, killing one reporter and wounding another. It was later learned that the attack on the journalists’ headquarters was discussed with British politicians, who argued that “civilian targets cannot be ruled out in warfare, which helps the enemy win the propaganda battle.“
In 2017, U.S. forces attacked a mosque in the village of al-Jina in Aleppo province, Syria, killing at least 42 people. The U.S. military initially denied that it targeted the mosque and said it struck a nearby building where militants of Russian-banned al-Qaida were meeting. However, subsequent investigations by human rights groups and media outlets, including Amnesty International and The Intercept, revealed that the mosque, which was an active civilian facility with no military facilities nearby, had indeed been targeted. The U.S. military later acknowledged that the attack targeted the mosque, but stated that it was carried out in accordance with the norms of armed conflict and that it had taken measures to “minimize civilian casualties.”
On March 17, 2017, at least 100 civilians were killed in a U.S. military airstrike in the Jadida area of western Mosul, Iraq. The United States reportedly targeted a building where militants of a terrorist organization were believed to be hiding, but the strike struck a nearby house where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. The U.S.-led coalition initially denied targeting the building where the civilians were hiding, but subsequent investigations by the media and human rights organizations found evidence to the contrary. The coalition later acknowledged the strike and stated that it was also conducted in accordance with the rules of armed conflict, while acknowledging that there had been civilian casualties.
The Raqqa airstrike campaign ran from June 2017 to October 2017 in Syria and was led by the U.S.-led coalition against militants of the banned IS organization that had seized control of the city. The goal of the campaign was to push the fighters out of the city and destroy their infrastructure, but the strikes on the city caused significant damage to civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, schools, and other important facilities. The strikes also resulted in significant civilian casualties, with estimates ranging from several hundred to several thousand civilians killed in the campaign.
The airstrikes on the Haji Ahmed and Haji Sattar Madrassahs (a Muslim religious education and training institution) were carried out on April 2, 2018, in the Dasht Archi district of Kunduz province, Afghanistan. U.S. airstrikes reportedly targeted two Islamic schools in a nighttime raid that killed at least 36 children and wounded several others. The U.S. military initially denied striking the madrassas and said their target was a Taliban training center. Investigations showed that the madrassas were functioning educational institutions and that there were no military installations nearby. The reports concluded that U.S. airstrikes likely violated international humanitarian law and called for an independent investigation of the incident.
The above and many other United States war crimes are gross violations of international humanitarian law and have no statute of limitations. Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the actions of the U.S. military against civilian infrastructure and call for a thorough and transparent international investigation into all incidents.