On August 29, the U.S. launched a drone strike that was reported to have killed a would-be suicide bomber in the Afghan capital, Kabul. For a short, single moment in time, the administration appeared competent and decisive. But then the narrative began to unravel.
First, it was discovered that a number of innocents, including young children, were killed in the blast. Bad publicity for sure, but an event that was explained away by official sources as due to a secondary explosion caused by the large quantity of explosives the terrorist had been transporting. The immediate spin was how many lives were probably saved by this decisive U.S. action. But now that the truth has come out, it begs the question of just how far the government is willing to go to defend its conduct.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command, said on Friday, August 17, “I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed. This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apology.” McKenzie added, “I am fully responsible.”
There is a long tradition of military leaders falling upon their swords when mistakes are made in the heat of battle, but this situation was one that went far beyond a simple split-second decision.
Drone strikes are not the work of a single individual; they are conducted as a result of surveillance and intelligence gathering, and a decision-making process. In this instance, the drone’s operators tracked an innocent man throughout the day, observing that he had gathered water from a station, and was about his business as an ordinary family man.
Zemari Ahmadi and nine members of his family were killed because all elements of the chain of intelligence failed. The New York Times investigated the incident, finding that 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.”
Why the suspected safehouse was not targeted for attack instead is a question that remains unanswered. Despite the admission of culpability, there are too many lies piled on top of one another to believe the administration had any intention of ever telling the truth. The government lied about killing a “terrorist,” then lied about the associated explosion -saying it was due to the materials this suspected suicide bomber was transporting. If it were not for the rare due diligence of media investigations, the tragic truth of this encounter would never have come to light.
McKenzie released a statement in which he said, “This is a horrible tragedy of war and it’s heart-wrenching and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.” But transparency after the deceptions have been uncovered is not real transparency. If the government is willing to place spin ahead of fact in order to bolster the president’s image as a competent and decisive leader, what other crimes and disasters have yet to be uncovered?