US admits Kabul drone strike killed 10 civilians

·3-min read

The US military has admitted that a drone strike meant to foil a suspected Isis-K threat in Afghanistan mistakenly killed as many as 10 people, all of them civilians.

“It was a mistake,” a senior US official told reporters of the 29 August drone attack.

Military leaders initially defended the strike. The US praised the attack, the final drone strike of the 20-year US war in Afghanistan, for “eliminating an imminent Isis-K threat” to the Kabul airport, adding that it didn’t have indications of any apparent civilian deaths in the residential neighbourhood it just hit with a missile. Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later called the strike “righteous”.

Upon further investigation, however, it was revealed that both the information leading up to the strike and the official version of events that initially followed were both incorrect.

“I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” said Kenneth McKenzie of the US Central Command.

The military initially believed that the driver of the Toyota saloon they struck with a Hellfire missile was involved in a plot because he had a brief, innocuous interaction outside of what is believed to be an Isis safehouse in Kabul, and loaded something into the back of his trunk, believed to be explosives.

The driver, whose identity was unknown as drone pilots pulled the trigger, according to The New York Times, was actually Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for a US aid group delivering food and educational assistance to refugees. His trunk was almost certainly full of water bottles.

Another victim was Ahmad Naser, who came to Kabul to escape the Taliban after having served as a guard at the US military’s Camp Lawton, in Herat. He was applying for a US special immigrant visa to leave the country, given the risk of reprisals against him for aiding the Americans.

US officials also claimed that secondary explosions after the strike strengthened the case that they had hit a terrorist, though they now believe the blasts were probably from a home gas or propane tank.

The strike, one of the final major military actions in the country as US forces hastily pulled out of Afghanistan, was hardly unique. The US has been roundly criticised for using so-called “signature strikes”, where individuals are targeted not because their identities and intentions are known based on concrete intelligence, but because they fit a pattern of likely threat to US forces.

Such strikes, as well as the US war effort in the Middle East at large since 9/11, has killed more than 363,000 civilians since 2001, according to a recent Independent analysis of the last 20 years of the “war on terror”.

“It’s a manifestation of the project of elite impunity that has always run through this entire enterprise and a manifestation of American exceptionalism, whereby the people that America kills are not somehow as real human beings as Americans are,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter Spencer Ackerman, author of Reign of Terror, a recent history of the war on terror.

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