Anatomy of an Air Strike – World



In support of the Irish Government’s “Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that May Arise from the Wide Area Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas”, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas.

Use the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) “Menu of indicators to measure the reverberation effects on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas” (EWIPA indicators) as As a framework for analyzing the immediate and long-term impacts of the use of explosive weapons, the AOAV investigated typical patterns of damage produced by specific manufactured weapons. The five reports independently examine grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), and mortars to draw comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas.

This report explores air strikes. Broadly speaking, an “air strike” is a method of launching several different types of weapons which, by definition, could encompass anything released from an aircraft, a grenade drop, or a handgun. land mine to an air-launched nuclear weapon. Since the inclusion of this wide array of weapons would limit the potential to find typical damage patterns, in this report we will primarily be looking at the General Purpose High Explosive Bomb that is fired from an aircraft. In this focus, there is still a significant variation in explosive power. Typical general-purpose bombs can weigh between 500 lb-2,000 lb (227 kg-907 kg) and deliver 200 lb-900 lb (90 kg-410 kg) of explosive material, with the potential for hundreds of casualties per use.

Yet these devastating weapons are not rarely deployed. On average, airstrikes have been used daily over the past decade (there have been 6,158 incidents recorded over 3,650 days, an average of 1.7 per day). Considering their high explosive content and frequent use, airstrike is certainly the most destructive type of weapon we envision in this series.

Such devastation has never been more blatant than in the village of Kustay, in Garmsir province, in southern Afghanistan, late in the evening of November 27, 2018. A US air strike, called by a joint operation Afghan-US special forces targeting a Taliban mobile unit struck a rural house where farmers and grandparents Aktar, 57, and Bibi, 55, were sheltering 25 members of their extended family. All but five young children were killed. An unspecified number of (probably three) Taliban fighters were also killed. The farm was completely razed, animals were killed and crops were destroyed. While we devote our attention to this tragic incident, these events are by no means unique. During the second half of the decade (2016-20), there were 3,977 civilian casualties from airstrikes in Afghanistan; 2,122 killed and 1,855 injured.

By examining airstrikes on a global scale as well as a single case study, this report aims to highlight “an anatomy of an air strike” and draw conclusions about the typical types of damage this weapon produces. when deployed in populated areas.

UNIDIR indicators

Released in early 2021, UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators provide a baseline for measuring damage caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.

The 28 indicators act as a ‘menu of ideas’ to better document the ‘spillover effects’ of explosive violence and to highlight the ways in which explosive weapons impact the complex ‘ecosystem’ of urban environments. .

UNIDIR divides these indicators into four focus areas aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions.
  • 11 – Sustainable cities and communities.
  • 3 – Good health and well-being.
  • 4 – Inclusive quality education, lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Each area of ​​intervention is subdivided into first, second and third level impacts as a means of mediating between the immediate and reverberant effects of explosive weapons. By modifying the traditional disaggregation of primary, secondary and tertiary (or reverberant) effects, UNIDIR integrates primary and secondary destruction of explosions into first level impacts, while dividing reverberation effects into second and third level impacts. In doing so, the indicators serve to explore the multifaceted nature of reverberation effects, rather than seeing them as fixed and homogeneous consequences.


This report draws on two main areas of research, the use of airstrikes on a global scale combined with an analysis of an individual incident that took place in Garmsir, Afghanistan on November 27, 2018. Using the “UNIDIR Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberation Effects on Civilians of the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas,” the report seeks to combine a holistic overview, with a more forensic analysis of a single incident, in order to draw conclusions about the typical types of damage that emerge when air strikes are used in populated areas.

AOAV hired Kabul-based journalist Aziz Ahmad Tassal of the Kabul Press Club to conduct and translate interviews in April 2021.

For global damage patterns, literature searches on airstrikes around the world were combined with data from the AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor (EVM) between early 2011 and late 2020.
The AOAV does not suggest that the EVM captures every explosive incident involving an airstrike over the past decade. The EVM only records incidents mentioned in English news sources, and specific weapon types are often poorly referenced – or not referenced at all. As a result, EVM data is likely to underestimate the full extent of airstrikes over the past decade, but provide a useful indicator of types of damage. Unless otherwise noted, data on global air strike use is taken from the EVM.

The report

Chapter 1: Airstrikes Around the World
Chapter 2: Case Study – Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan, November 27, 2018
Chapter 3: SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
Chapter 4: SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
Chapter 5: SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
Chapter 6: SDG 4 – Quality education
Chapter 7: Other considerations
Conclusion and recommendations