A Sunday drone strike in Kabul initially claimed by US officials to have destroyed a car packed with “multiple suicide bombers” Reportedly killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children.
The drone strike that hit Khwaja Burgha, a working-class neighborhood in Kabul, is believed to have killed numerous members of the Ahmadi family, the latest alleged victim being a 2-year-old girl. Images of the morgue showing the burned bodies of several children, as well as photos of the victims before their deaths, were shared on social media. One of the dead, according to members of the Ahmadi family who spoke to reporters, was a former Afghan army officer who had served as a contractor for US troops, as well as an employee at a charitable organization.
“The Americans said the airstrike killed members of Daesh”, a neighbor of the family angry told reporters after the strike, referring to the Islamic State. “Where is Daesh here? Were these kids Daesh?”
The Defense Department and other branches of the Biden administration continued to describe the drone strike as a “successful” attack on the militant group Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which had taken responsibility for a suicide bombing at the airport in Vietnam. Kabul. While reports confirmed that an innocent family had been murdered, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Defense Department is “not in a position to dispute” reports that civilians were killed, and stated the incident would be investigated.
The drone strike in Kabul is just one in a long series of attacks in Afghanistan by US forces and their proxies that have reportedly been made. murdered large numbers of citizens. Past attacks have struck families traveling cars and buses, wedding parties, hospitals full of patients, and groups of farmers who work on the land. While the withdrawal of US troops could be described as the end of the war in Afghanistan, the attack in Kabul shows how the war can easily enter a new chapter, with the US attacking targets with planes launched from distant drone bases.
Critics of civilian casualties in the US war have pointed to the lack of serious on-the-ground investigations of the dead — responsibility that will be even harder to come by in a distant war.
“The drone program is opaque, with extremely limited liability for all involved.”
“In my experience, the bar for thorough military investigation has been set so high that most credible incidents are ignored. The investigations that take place are neither consistent nor rigorous,” said Nick McDonell, author of “The Bodies in Person: An Account of Civilian Casualties in American Wars,” an analysis of the impact of America’s air wars on the Middle East. “At the same time, the military has repeatedly withheld information about civilian casualties. The drone program is opaque, with extremely limited liability for all involved.”
What separated the recent drone strike in Kabul from the long pattern of reported civilian deaths was the level of immediate attention and outcry it has generated. The US war in Afghanistan has mostly been waged in rural areas, away from international media attention. Kabul, on the other hand, is the country’s populous capital and center for expatriates, non-governmental organizations and both Afghan and international journalists.
When the attack was reported, video footage of the civilians killed in the attack immediately began circulating, and even international journalists were able to quickly access the attack site.
Many past strikes, on the other hand, have stayed under the radar — and continue to do so. AN retaliatory strike it came immediately after the recent terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in rural eastern Afghanistan that reportedly killed two people: an ISIS “planner” and a “facilitator,” the defense ministry said.
During Monday’s press conference, Kirby declined to share further information about the identities of the two people believed to have died in that earlier attack. Aside from dedicated observers in Afghanistan, few noticed. Journalists and rights advocates have so far failed to report details of on-the-spot investigations or whether such investigations are possible at all.
The opaque nature of the war in Afghanistan has made calculating accurate death tolls from U.S. operations difficult — a challenge compounded by the military’s own long-standing refusal to compile statistics and verify information about who was killed in its attacks. The secretive nature of the war on terror in general, in all its different areas of operations, combined with military practices that pay little attention to strike investigations, makes it almost impossible to assess its civilian impact.
The Pentagon initially released a statement honoring Sunday’s strike in Kabul’s Khwaja Burgha neighborhood, as it had halted what it claimed to be another imminent terrorist threat against the airport. However, after local journalists and activists began to surface harrowing images of killed civilians, the Pentagon released a press release stating that “it is unclear what may have happened” in the strike, claiming there were secondary explosions from the bombing that suggested the presence of explosives on the ground. (The White House quoted this explanation in its own statements about the allegations of civilian casualties.)
The Pentagon often publishes images of its airstrikes, with the intent to advertise successful attacks on suspected terrorists. In the past, some videos have been released describing successful strikes that happened later revealed civilian targets. The Pentagon declined to comment on The Intercept whether it would release footage of the Khwaja Burgha attack to verify the alleged presence of secondary explosions.
The military’s own promises to investigate incidents involving civilian casualties have led to little meaningful accountability in the past.
According to its standard practice, the military does not make site visits to find out who died in its airstrikes, leaving the grueling work of figuring out who died and why to independent monitoring organizations and investigative journalists working with far fewer resources. operate than the Pentagon. The Washington Post reported last year that as airstrikes increased in the final years of the war in Afghanistan, the number of attacks on civilian casualties investigated by the military plummeted. Few outside the affected areas would have taken notice of many of the strikes, let alone the lack of investigations.
“Failure to properly recognize, investigate, or compensate for civilian deaths and injuries is a constant of U.S. airstrikes.”
In those cases where the military did launch its own investigation, the findings were viewed with skepticism. “These investigations are nothing but advertisements for the media,” a municipal official from Afghanistan’s Helmand province told the Post. “They know no mercy. They only see targets to kill.”
However, the airstrike in Kabul caused an outburst of grief and anger among many Afghans, who were already reeling from the Taliban takeover of their country after the collapse of the US-backed central government. While the Pentagon has pledged to hold itself accountable for such incidents, drone war experts say there is little reason to expect meaningful justice for the victims based on past practice.
“Failure to properly recognize, investigate or reimburse civilian deaths and injuries is a constant feature of U.S. airstrikes, whether in recognized wars like Afghanistan, or beyond, such as in Somalia,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s. National security project. “The specific reasons and the agencies involved in those failures can be different in each context – and over 20 years we have seen repeated legal and policy debates and promises from the US government to do better. But that is of little comfort to the civilians on the receiving end of American deadly force, who suffer horrific damage with little or no transparency and accountability.”