Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya


After the United States, along with NATO allies, bombed the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic for seventy-eight days in 1999, Milosevic withdrew his army from Kosovo. With no troops on the ground, political and military leaders congratulated themselves on the success of Operation Allied Force, considered to be the first military victory won through the use of strategic air power alone. This apparent triumph motivated military and political leaders to embrace a policy of using "clean bombs" (precision munitions and air strikes)--without a dirty ground war--as the preferred choice for answering military aggression. Ten years later it inspired a similar air campaign against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya as a groundswell of protests erupted into revolution.

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars offers a fresh perspective on the role, relevance, and effectiveness of air power in contemporary warfare, including an exploration of the political motivations for its use as well as a candid examination of air-to-ground targeting processes. Using recently declassified materials from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library along with primary evidence culled from social media posted during the Arab Spring, Robert H. Gregory Jr. shows that the argument that air power eliminates the necessity for boots on the ground is an artificial and illusory claim.


Nothing comparable to this state of affairs had been known in the
previous history of warfare, unless we take such a case as that of a
nineteenth century warship attacking some large savage or barbaric
settlement, or one of those naval bombardments that disfigure the
history of Great Britain in the late eighteenth century.

—H. G. Wells, The War in the Air, 1908

Herbert George Wells coined the phrase “air power” in The War in the Air, a work of science fiction published in 1908. Three years later during the Italo-Turkish War, on 1 November 1911 Italian aviator Lt. Giulio Gavotti wrote in a letter to his father: “Today two boxes full of bombs arrived. We are expected to throw them from our planes It will be very interesting to try them on the Turks.” Although Austrian forces had dropped bombs on Venice using unmanned balloons in 1849, Gavotti s attempt would be the first aerial bombardment from a manned, heavier-than-air flying machine.

Later that day Gavotti flew on a reconnaissance mission over a Turkish encampment east of Tripoli, Libya. Following secret orders, Gavotti had brought along four hand grenades, and he tossed them out of his monoplane, trying to hit the Turkish soldiers below. After the mission, Gavotti wrote another letter to his father, boasting of his experience:

I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw
the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for
[a] couple of seconds and then it disappears. and after a little while, I
can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I have hit

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.