Once again, expectations for responsible leadership from the Pentagon’s senior governance are dashed. The Associated Press recently reported that U.S. Central Command’s General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. and Special Operations Command’s General Richard D. Clarke determined no disciplinary action should be taken in the errant missile attack that killed innocent Afghan adults and children on Aug. 29. In its coverage of the incident, “Unpacking the Kabul Drone Strike Tragedy,” Liberty Nation said it appeared an immediate intelligence failure led to the “horrible mistake.” U.S. Air Force Inspector General Lieutenant General Sami D. Said was tasked with conducting an inquiry into the drone strike and on Nov. 3 presented his findings to the Pentagon. His conclusion: No one should be held to account.
On Dec. 13, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs John Kirby explained why: “If [Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin] believed that in the case of the 29 August airstrike that accountability was warranted and needed, he would certainly support those kinds of efforts.” There might be another explanation. If any of those in senior military leadership were held accountable, then the commander in chief – Joe Biden — would ultimately be responsible and, yes, accountable. But the president gets a pass.
Still, Austin endorsed the recommendation, establishing the official Defense Department position. According to The Guardian’s report, Kirby said, “[The secretary] approved their recommendations … [and] is not calling for additional accountability measures.” Does Kirby have the meaning of “accountability” all wrong? It is the essence of leadership and the intrinsic consequence of the actions of soldiers and their leaders. Someone is accountable for what happened in Kabul.
Instead, Kirby blamed processes, analysis of intelligence, and the “actual execution procedures of a strike.” He went on to assert that “as the Secretary said himself, we’re not going to be above or afraid to make changes to the way we analyze information and intelligence.” The issue here is not fear of change. The problem is that decisions were made, and no one will step up and take ownership.
Particularly disturbing about Austin’s decision is that McKenzie, the responsible commander in the region who should have been held accountable, was one of the senior leaders who approved the Air Force Inspector General’s report. What could be better for him? Worse, immediately after the killing of the Afghan humanitarian aid worker and nine of his family, McKenzie admitted in a New York Times article the conditions on the ground were such that “[we] did not have the luxury to develop pattern of life,” which is a critical step in determining a viable target. Had McKenzie not viewed that essential step as a “luxury,” the consequences of the strike decision might have been the same, but the general would not be guilty of failing to follow procedures.
Unfortunately, Austin has made it clear that any heinous decision by senior leaders in the U.S. armed forces, including the commander in chief, will go without consequences. What a regrettable message to send to the troops in the field. Their lives depend on the judgment of their superiors, and apparently no one is responsible for deadly leadership decisions. Does anyone believe such dereliction goes unnoticed by the men and women in our military?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.