Another massacre of civilians by US drones

The US military has admitted that the drone strike that it carried out that they initially claimed killed a major ISIS operative in fact killed ten innocent civilians including seven children.

In a briefing on Friday, the commander of US Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, said he now believes it was unlikely that those who died were Islamic State militants or posed a direct threat to US forces at Kabul’s airport.

“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie, wearing military uniform, told reporters. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with [Islamic State Khorasan] or were a direct threat to US forces.

For days after the 29 August strike by a single Hellfire missile, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, even though numerous civilians had been killed, including children. Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had hailed it as a “righteous strike”.

This is just one more massacre of innocent Afghan civilians by the US using drone strikes during the 20-year invasion of that hapless country.

Tragic as it was, in a way, this was drearily predictable. The strike was ordered in the immediate aftermath of the suicide bombing near the Kabul airport on August 29 where crowds of people trying to flee before the US withdrawal had gathered. The suicide bombing killed scores of Afghans and 13 US soldiers. I doubt that there was much concern among US policymakers for the dead Afghans but the deaths of US soldiers placed an exclamation point on the entire debacle that was the US withdrawal.

The US does what it usually does when it gets attacked like this. It lashes out immediately. That not only satisfies the desire for revenge, it draws attention away from the deaths of the soldiers. The idea that the US military immediately knew the exact whereabouts of a key ISIS operative to hit strains credulity because they presumably could have targeted him at any time. It is more likely that they hurriedly chose a target and did not take the time examine it too carefully. The secondary explosion that occurred after the bombing was claimed to be due to munitions being carried by the militant, supporting the initial US claim that it was a valid target. We are now told that that was due to a propane tank that happened to be near the vehicle.

What likely caused the official story to unravel was that the driver of the hit vehicle, far from being an ISIS cadre, actually worked for an American humanitarian organization.

McKenzie ordered an investigation by Central Command. It found that the strike killed Zemari Ahmadi, a worker for Nutrition and Education International, a nongovernment organisation that distributes food to Afghan civilians, along with nine members of his family. His car was reportedly carrying water bottles rather than explosives.

The New York Times said Ahmadi’s “only connection to the terrorist group appeared to be a fleeting and innocuous interaction with people in what the military believed was an Isis safehouse in Kabul, an initial link that led military analysts to make one mistaken judgment after another while tracking Mr Ahmadi’s movements in a sedan for the next eight hours”.

If the dead people had been ordinary Afghans with no connections, the family would have suffered the same fate of the many other people who have been killed by US assaults, tarred as militants to justify their killing. This is just one more horrific killing of civilians, including children and old people, to add to all the others that the US has carried out, not only in Afghanistan, but in the many other countries that it is waging war in.

Human rights organisations welcomed the investigation as a move towards accountability but demanded further action.

Brian Castner, senior crisis adviser with Amnesty International’s crisis response programme, said: “The US must now commit to a full, transparent, and impartial investigation into this incident. Anyone suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in a fair trial. Survivors and families of the victims should be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and be given full reparation.

“It should be noted that the US military was only forced to admit to its failure in this strike because of the current global scrutiny on Afghanistan. Many similar strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Somalia have happened out of the spotlight, and the US continues to deny responsibility while devastated families suffer in silence.”

We are constantly told that US drones are very accurate and that the US is very careful to make sure they target only militants. That has been proven false time and time again.


  1. jrkrideau says

    And we should not forget that it appears that most of the civilian casualties in the attack appear to have been shot by US or Afghan troops.

  2. Bruce says

    To me, the most horrifying aspect of this is that it essentially happened in a time of relative peace, where we had a non-conflict protocol of sorts with the Taliban, which means we mostly weren’t doing other strikes, which means we had an unusually great opportunity to focus and to get this right. Yet we got it horribly wrong. If, after twenty constant years of practice, we could focus our whole capabilities and still mess it up, that signals that we essentially have never had a meaningful ability to analyze any such situation.
    In WWII, we could fly bombers over what we figured was enemy held territory, and bomb people and things, and usually guess ok that we were hitting enemy things, I suppose. But in conflicts where there are enemies and non-combattants mixed together, we have no ability to sort them out. We have just been blindly guessing.
    Sure, we got Bin Laden, but that was by an informant tip we paid for.
    For the past 20 years, or the past 75 years, or the past 240 years, we have been the gang that can’t shoot straight. We seem to have so little patience for bothering to aim first that I am beginning to question the morality of being in any war where aiming is a thing.

  3. lorn says

    This strike doesn’t worry me much. In fact it, in it’s own way serves as an undesired, but entirely fitting, conclusion to our, and pretty much everyone else’s, involvement in Afghanistan.

    Some context -- The Biden administration was following through on the exit from Afghanistan. I suspect Trump thought the Taliban were mindlessly bloodthirsty. In that light everything Trump did was designed to make the situation explode as Biden performed the exit Trump was incapable of executing. That is very Trumpian, to make himself look good by setting others up to fail.

    Keep that thought in mind when you contemplate: Miller’s refusal to allow the SIV program to get allies out; the release of thousands of prisoners (including ISIS); the sloppy withdrawal of the bulk of US assets; the failure to provide continued contractor support (the proprietary software that makes advanced system work was taken when the contractors left); the give away the farm negotiations with the Taliban; the diplomatic exclusion and political undermining of the Afghan government …

    Yes, it was designed to blow up in the ugliest way imaginable. But the Taliban failed to live up to their reputation for brainless and pointless violence. Instead, they cooperated with the evacuation.

    The good news was that freed of any requirement to execute a fighting-withdrawal, one of the hardest maneuvers in war, the collapse of the Afghan government and US exit were so swift forces seeking to interfere were caught flat-footed. The operation was largely at a logical stopping point by the time ISIS-K could get the suicide bombing together.

    The bad news was that the US media and right, desperate to find fault, took this as a complete mission failure and demanded “something” be done. And this is when the we get into typical for Afghanistan: What to do? Something decisive. Something strong. Hey intelligence guy. You have anything? As a matter of fact we think we have an ISIS-K bomber …

    This is the core problem of all the engagements in Afghanistan. We don’t know the people, the culture, the factions and tribes. This is the heart of why every invasion from outside Afghanistan failed. Way back, BC, when you invaded you were expanding your country. If you conquered and you stayed. Every army that failed to bring enough troops to pacify or eliminate the uncooperative locals, or simply intended to leave got booted out when they did leave.

    If you intend to stay you either eliminate or harmonize with the population. We, and everyone else, always intended to leave. No matter how many canals and roads we built. No mater how nice we were building schools and clinics. Everybody knew we were leaving.

    Yes, we had language experts, and local advisors, and a government but everything was done with one eye on the exit. We simply didn’t integrate the Afghans, most knew we were transients, into our reality and very few westerners wanted to fully immerse themselves in Afghan culture. We never understood the Afghans.

    We substituted technical means for cultural and social understanding. Which is why we seem to have mistaken a family of Afghan aide workers for ISIS-K bombers. It is any easy mistake to make when all you have is observations from 30,000 feet up being analyzed by people 3000 miles away whose mindset is partly a result of binge-watching Marvel Movies. That, and a few vague rumors and a demand to “get me something to work with”. This is the bloody and very ugly version of Carlin’s “Spy at the airport”. You know there is a spy at the airport. Your job is to find them.

    It is our, and everyone else’s, inability to deal effectively with Afghanistan in microcosm. This is a tragic, but entirely typical, end to our engagement in Afghanistan. We want to do the right thing. We want it to work out. We want to be just and true but we more closely resemble a far-sighted watchmaker using a crowbar and sledgehammer to repair a watch. We can’t see the mechanisms to even begin to understand them and our tools are far too crude to make the repair if we could figure out what needs to be done.

    The good news is that leaving is the greater good for everyone. The Taliban will have an opportunity to reform, I hope they take it. The Taliban will likely be far more effective against ISIS-K using informants and bribery than we could with Predator drones. Hopefully we will be less inclined to try to judge motivation and intention from 30,000 feet. I have my doubts about that last part. It is hard to own billion dollar toys that go boom, and not play with them.

  4. says

    We’re told because it’s a half truth.

    They absolutely are accurate, they hit exactly who they’re aiming for.

    And they were aiming for civilians, to show the Taliban that the US can and will act with impunity even more, now that the US uniforms are gone.

    We are constantly told that US drones are very accurate and that the US is very careful to make sure they target only militants.

  5. mnb0 says

    “To me, the most horrifying aspect of this …..”
    To me the most horrifying aspect of this is that almost all American liberals next time again will call for voting a president into the White House who is going to continue this practice. But let’s brush aside the moral issues. It has become a cliche pointing out that the difference between the morality of JoeB and of Donald the Clown is as irrelevant as that difference between Hermann Göring and Adolf Moustachman.
    What striked me most is the sheer stupidity of this “revenge” act. See -- and given the fact that nobody has mentioned it I assume, to remain on the safe side, that the contributors on this side are as ignorant as usual on non-American topics -- ISIS and Taliban are enemies.

    The JoeB administration brilliantly missed an excellent opportunity to take benefit of this rivalry and to use it for its own interests. Instead it gave the Taliban a good reason to ally with ISIS.

  6. lorn says

    “And they were aiming for civilians, to show the Taliban that the US can and will act with impunity even more, now that the US uniforms are gone.”

    That may be the end result, but years ago I used to be around some of the people flying drones and making the calls and I have yet to have anyone make such a claim from inside these organizations. IMO, almost all of this is simply a combination of not being able to discern motives and intentions from high altitude, and demands that they do exactly that.

    I fail to see any deep, dark malevolence.

    Of course I also have some perspective of why the US military endures such close examination while others seem to get a pass for casualty totals a magnitude greater but spread out over time and location. Here again people measure what is easiest to measure and critique most harshly those easiest to be critical of. Overlooking the fact that it is the area under the curve, not the size of the peak, that matters.

    Ten dead is tragic. But we are talking about a population where girls and boys are sold into virtual slavery and victims of feuds between tribes, families, and ethnic groups are so routine that nobody bothers to count them. Does anyone think this drumbeat of death and iniquity will slow, much less stop, with the US gone?

    Does anyone think that afghans are fools? Why did so many Afghans side with us? Like it or not a whole lot of afghans saw us, even knowing we would leave eventually, as a better offer than what they had previously. We were, for all our flaws and ham-handed tactics, and only by comparison, the good guys.

  7. jrkrideau says

    3 Bruce

    In WWII, we could fly bombers over what we figured was enemy held territory, and bomb people and things

    I cannot remeber what city in France the USAAF was bombing but, IIRC, the Swiss did a lot of shooting at the bombers as they tended to bomb Switzerland not France.

    @3 lorn

    We, and everyone else, always intended to leave.

    No idea where I saw the quote but sit went something along the lines of “When we saw you putting up tents we knew we would win”. Also I do not think one can discount the fact that the Afghan “Gov’t” was so incredibly corrupt that US senators were in awe.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    mnb0 @6: Leaving aside the usual disingenuous patented mnb0 bullshit:

    given the fact that nobody has mentioned it I assume, to remain on the safe side, that the contributors on this side are as ignorant as usual on non-American topics — ISIS and Taliban are enemies.

    I suspect nobody mentioned it because anyone who is somewhat informed on the subject (like me, and probably most commenters) is well aware of this. Even the Americans! Your stupid assumptions never end, do they?

  9. Holms says

    Huh, initial reports were that “at least one” (i.e. exactly one) of the people killed was a terrorist, meaning the US military accepts a collateral casualty ratio of 90%. And they were satisfied that the driver was a terrorist because of one interaction they distantly observed.

    #6 mnb0
    It has become a cliche pointing out that the difference between the morality of JoeB and of Donald the Clown is as irrelevant as that difference between Hermann Göring and Adolf Moustachman.

    Are you being a bloody-minded fool intentionally?

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