A couple of days after an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 US service members at the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s Abbey Gate in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Biden administration announced a drone strike had killed what was thought to be a terrorist planning another attack. First reports described a preemptive missile attack on a white Toyota Corolla carrying explosives. Many in the White House and the Pentagon were extolling the planning and the pinpoint accuracy of the air attack. They shouldn’t have been. Within hours the same day, accounts from the location of the airstrike started coming into US Central Command (USCENTCOM). There were civilian casualties, including children.
A tale emerges of military analysts knowing immediately “within minutes” that civilians had been killed. And within three hours, it was known that at least three children were dead in the attack, Azmat Khan explained in an article for The New York Times. But that wasn’t the story being told by USCENTCOM, the White House, and the Pentagon. Documents in an investigation of the incident were completed less than two weeks after the drone attack but never made public. The findings didn’t support the self-congratulations among the US military leaders. The investigation results had to be obtained by the NYT through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Drone Strike Justified Unjustly
There was a rush to justify the unmanned aerial vehicle attack as a triumphant win for the good guys. The powerful US military would not allow another Afghan terrorist bomber to kill Americans. When it was already known the mistake that killed Zemerai Ahmadi, an aid worker with an American humanitarian mission, and nine members of his family, including seven children, the reaction in the Pentagon was defensive. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Mark Milley explained in a September 1, 2021, Pentagon press briefing:
“So, were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are, we don’t know. We’ll try to sort through all of that. But we believe that the procedures at this point – I don’t want to influence the outcome of an investigation – but at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed, and it was a (righteous strike?).”
The assertion that “procedures were correctly followed” was repudiated by the USCENTCOM commander General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., US Marine Corps (Ret), who explained: “’[we] did not have the luxury to develop pattern of life,’ which is a critical step in determining a viable target,” Liberty Nation reported when the Defense Department elected to hold no one responsible for an attack gone terribly wrong.
Milley made other statements that proved to be untrue, and the correct information was known the same day as the attack. For example, the Chairman said that “we know there was secondary explosions. Because there was secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But look at the video. There were no secondary explosions. The video was available in real-time, instantly, after the strike.
Chairman Continues with Misinformation
Furthermore, Milley told reporters, “[A]s we know from a variety of other means, that at least one of those people that were killed was an ISIS facilitator.” No ISIS facilitator was found among the bodies of Mr. Ahmadi and his family. All of the misinformation was, if not known conclusively, certainly suspected to be untrue. But, again, analysts within hours were aware there had been a mistake. A USCENTCOM spokesperson dodged questions on the new information uncovered that “officials were aware of civilian casualties immediately” and referred inquiries to “previous statements and briefings they’ve provided on the strike when asked for comment,” Mike Brest reported in the Washington Examiner. “The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.”
The famous question, “what did the president know and when did he know it,” from the Watergate investigation has some application. The American public now realizes the US national security team knew very soon after the deadly drone strike on innocent civilians what the circumstances involved. The information was buried for nearly a year and a half. The US president’s legacy of bumbling the Afghanistan evacuation worsens with age. So, combine haste to make the kill and attempts to claim unjustified success afterward, and the attack was just another embarrassing episode in the debacle that was Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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