US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was ‘Horrible Mistake’

By Brett Wilkins. Originally published at Common Dreams

Following a rare Pentagon admission Friday that a remote-controlled airstrike which killed 10 Afghan civilians in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan was a “horrible mistake,” anti-war and human rights advocates asserted that “war crimes are not oopsies,” while calling on the U.S. to end drone strikes in the so-called War on Terror.

On Friday, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told reporters at a Pentagon press conference that the August 29 drone strike that killed 43-year-old Afghan aid worker Zamarai Ahmadi and nine of his relatives—including seven children—in the capital Kabul was carried out “in the profound belief” that an attack by militants of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) on Kabul’s international airport was imminent.

At least 182 people, including 169 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops, were killed in the August 26 bombing. The South and Central Asian branch of Islamic State, known as ISIS-Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack.

However, the “explosives” U.S. military officials claimed were being loaded into the white Toyota Corolla sedan owned by the California-based nonprofit Nutrition and Education International (NEI), where Ahmadi had worked for the past 15 years, were most likely bottles of water.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Friday.

At a September 1 press conference, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley called the bombing a “righteous strike.” As recently as Monday, Pentagon officials defended the errant strike, claiming it was necessary to thwart another imminent attack on U.S. troops.

However, investigations by The New York Times and The Washington Post revealed that—contrary to the Pentagon’s claims—there were no explosives in the Toyota, that the men loading the vehicle were not militants, and that there were numerous other additional victims in the vicinity of the sedan destroyed by a missile fired following hours of surveillance.

“In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, but after deeper post-strike analysis, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” Milley said. “This is a horrible tragedy of war and it’s heart-wrenching, and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.”

Journalists, anti-war activists, and others noted that as many as 48,000Afghan civilians—and at least around 900,000 men, women, and children in the broader War on Terror—have been killed by U.S. and allied bombs and bullets over the past 20 years, while calling for an end to drone strikes.

Olivia Alperstein, media manager at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, tweeted that the U.S. should “apologize for all the drone strikes, and put an end to drone warfare once and for all.”

Brian Castner, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Program, on Friday called the Pentagon’s admission “an important step towards accountability for the killings in Kabul,” but added that “much more remains to be done.”

Castner continued:

The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. continues to deny responsibility while devastated families suffer in silence.

The U.S. must ensure that it ends unlawful strikes, consistently and thoroughly investigates all allegations of civilians harmed in attacks, and publicly discloses its findings.

The leftist advocacy group Afghans for a Better Tomorrow tweeted, “The only way to stop this from ever happening again is to end drone strikes.”

Shoaib Haider, a judge who is Ahmadi’s second cousin, told CNN that the strike should be investigated as a potential war crime.

“We hope the United Nations and human rights supporters will carry out an assessment of such incidents,” Haider said, in order to avoid future “tragic incidents like this one, in which innocent children and members of a family were eliminated.”

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  1. witters

    “Following a rare Pentagon admission Friday that a remote-controlled airstrike which killed 10 Afghan civilians in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan was a “horrible mistake…”

    Wasn’t the war over?

    1. Cesar Jeopardy

      For the U.S., war is never over. In fact, Biden has stated that we will continue to bomb people in Afghanistan. And “the blob” will not allow wars to end.

  2. topcat

    Quite amazing really, the US openly admits to murdering civllians, in a clear war crime, admits to killing tens of thousands of other civilians by-the-way and the response is that it would be nice if they appologised. But, hey, if no one wants to appologise then that is fine too, but maybe they would think about not doing it again? or not.
    Fucked up reality.

    1. MonkeyBusiness

      Don’t worry, we are still better than what the Chinese have been doing to the Uyghurs.

      I mean, mass media can’t be wrong on that right? Right?

    2. drsteve0

      Jeebus these people are good at propaganda. Maybe I’m just cynical but I get the nauseating feeling that all this rending of garments, weeping, gnashing of teeth over this unusually well disseminated singular incident (OMG, I am so sorry!) is meant to draw attention away from hundreds, no, at least thousands of similar FU’s (or were they) that have killed God only knows how many countless innocents. Brown folk, meet pink mist. Your tax money (yeah, yeah MMT) at work. Disgusting.

  3. Joe Brant

    The 169 killed in the Kabul incident were mostly shot by rifles, not killed by the ISISK bomb, and the shooting appears to have been by US troops in nearby towers. So these were not intended as defensive acts: these were all war crimes. I suggest that they were done by US and US-trained soldiers anxious to score a few parting kills to aggrandize themselves, having been given a methodology of excuses. Their commanders should be prosecuted by ICC for war crimes. But instead the US has refused to sign the Treaty of Rome permitting that, and instead passed a law to militarily attack the Hague if it prosecutes US personnel.

    This is the result of allowing elections and mass media to be funded by economic concentrations, which destroyed what little democracy and culture the US ever had. Those are the tools of democracy, so non-violent reform is impossible, and violent reform will likely take generations of further corruption.

    1. ks

      Yes. It took a truck bomb to kill that many people in Oklahoma City. How could a suicide bomber transport a bomb large enough to cause so many fatalities?

    2. Tom Doak

      We signed a law to militarily attack The Hague if it prosecutes US personnel?

      Which law is that? Who sponsored it?

    3. Procopius

      So these were not intended as defensive acts…

      I disagree. This is standard doctrine. If your unit takes fire immediately fire at random out from the center of your unit. This should suppress enemy fire long enough to evaluate the probable location of the attacker(s). This works OK in the Ia Drang Valley, which had large uninhabited areas, but caused a lot of hatred of Americans when it was employed in populated areas. Or it worked OK in areas where the civilians had been able to get out before the two armies met. It’s not so good in guerrilla warfare.

  4. Ian Perkins

    I wonder who’ll get more money in compensation, the families of those killed in this and other US war crimes, or the French firms that probably won’t be building underwater deathmobiles to taunt and threaten China? (If they were serious about the international security angle, they’d build them anyway, and foist them on somewhere like New Caledonia – but of course security isn’t the issue, profits are.)

  5. Felix_47

    As commander in chief Biden was informed. It is likely this was done on his orders. He was eager to project strength. He said he was going to make them pay. I hope some generals lose rank and the truth comes out.

  6. Zachary Smith

    Headline: Hours before drone strike, US said Biden doesn’t want Kabul attackers to ‘live on earth anymore’

    Hours before the United States confirmed a counterterrorism operation against an ISIS-K planner, the White House said that President Joe Biden does not want the people behind the Kabul airport attack to “live on the earth anymore.” Biden had earlier to vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the suicide bombing outside Kabul airport that killed dozens of Afghans and 13 US Marines.

    “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this – we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command,” Biden had said.

    A reporter asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki the next day what the president exactly meant when he said “we will hunt you down and make you pay.”

    “I think he made clear yesterday that he does not want them to live on the earth anymore,” Psaki replied.

    Biden wanted a highly visible execution, and the US Drone Force gave him one.

    The responsibility for these murders – past and present – belongs in the White House.

  7. Randy

    The only reason this particular strike got attention and was immediately outed for killing civilians is because of the drama surrounding the withdrawal. For Afghans, this was par the course for life under US occupation. I suspect if all drone strikes were subject to this scrutiny the “official” civilian death toll would skyrocket. The US has been doing this for 20 years there, and then our dumbass elites are surprised when not a single Afghan is willing to fight and die against the Taliban.

  8. Dave in Austin

    Straw men are always easy to shoot down with zingers, hyperbole, drones and hysterical articles.

    Just as we do with commercial airplane “accidents”, the US military must investigate events like this drone strike to reduce the likelihood of future mistake. As with airplane investigations, you start with the assumption that the people who made the mistakes were operating in good faith and a realization that if they face punishment for “mistakes” (as opposed to intentional errors or failure to follow orders or procedures) they will clam-up.

    Improving the process is never a pretty business when lives are lost.

    Such reviews can only be done without public exposure and without a full public report. I’ve known people trained at Mayo Clinic where the doctors in closed meetings publicly admit and discuss mistakes and where there is ruthless institutional assessment- all, of necessity, done off the record and with no documentation. All the best institutions do this. If you want to hear some real criticism talk to someone who has sat-in on a pro-football Monday team meeting after an unexpected loss- no reporters; no recordings; fingers being pointed in unexpected directions; real changes being made on the fly. I notice that the most cover-your-ass institutions (like the press for example) never do this- or at least never admit to doing it.

    We really need to learn to be more honest about how mistakes are made and how the complex systems that lead to mistakes should be fine-tuned to reduce future mistakes.

    The syllogism “Drone strikes kill innocent people so they must be abolished” applies equally (and ridiculously) to all human activity. Two examples (one from the left and one from the right, to show balance) are:

    “Child welfare social workers failed to identify this obvious example of child abuse therefore it is really time to abolish the failed system of child welfare investigations as we know it”.

    “Many January 6th rioters are being held without charges or trial in solitary solitary confinement for long periods of time and this is punishment before trial, so it is high time that they all be released on personal recognizance until trial”.

    A premise which is true does not make the editorial writer or propagandist’s conclusions accurate.

    1. Tom Doak

      You have started with the premise that drone strikes are a lawful activity on the same plane as air travel and doctoring.


  9. Skip Intro

    So they missed the ‘real’ ISIS actors, and the attack they were so eager to abort went off without a hitch? Or is it the case that there was never really an attack planned, and that excuse was fabricated to justify some extra ‘collateral damage’?

  10. The Rev Kev

    I don’t know how true it is but I read earlier that when a Hellfire missile is fired, that the last ten seconds it cannot be called off or destroyed in flight. And that means that those operators would have seen those kids run out to greet their father and all that they could do was to watch. Some operators would not be bothered by that though, so long as the target was hit. Others would.

    But you do have to wonder if this is being made a big deal of to hide the fact that most of the people that were killed in the Bagram airport bombing were actually shot to death by US and other soldiers in a general panic. That is definitely one story that is being stomped down on and if it means taking a hit through this one story, then so be it. And it is not like anybody will be punished or reprimanded for that Hellfire strike. It is just the fog of war at work they will say.

    1. Felix_47

      Unfortunately not the Bagram bombing. Had we stayed in Bagram until the evacuations were complete this never would have happened. Bagram is close to Kabul, it was a fully equipped and defended US Air Force Base. Flight facilities were far superior to Kabul airport with multiple runways. Access could have been controlled at the front gate. There was full electronic defense against incoming. And although I opposed the AFG and Iraq wars from the start since they were just fake wag the dog exercises, I served in Bagram and multiple other locations in Afghanistan in combat and I know it pretty well. This is on the draft dodger in chief.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Bagram – arrghh! I see I misspoke. I meant Kabul airport of course. Bagram was of course a more secure air base to evacuate all those people from except for one thing. The people that needed to be evacuated were in Kabul, not Bagram, so the evacuation had to be done from there instead. To do it from Bagram would have meant massive convoys going from Kabul, which was about 60 kilometers to the south, all the way north to Bagram.

        With the amount of civilians, I do not see how it could have been done without being exposed to attacks. Not by the Taliban but by ISIS of course. By being done at Kabul, at least the Taliban were able to try to protect it from ISIS attacks using their special forces formations to form an outer defensive ring that was – mostly – successful.

        As for the draft dodger in chief, you remember that time that the US had a President that ducked into the Texas Air National Guard when younger to avoid going to Vietnam? And how they got bored and just wandered away from their unit to go help in some political campaign without even requesting permission? I think that the last President to see active service was this guy’s father who saw combat as a pilot in the Pacific in WW2.

  11. Alice X

    A lone tag to twenty years of drone miscues and mis-perceptions. Beyond sad. Where was the M$M in all the while? The drone king is dead, long live the drone king! /s

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