Five days after the Pentagon closed the case of the drone attack that killed 10 civilians in Kabul in August, an investigation by the newspaper The New York Times published this Saturday shows that the “tragic mistake” that he assumed to have made in the last days of the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been repeated frequently, especially since 2014, when the use of drones to strike jihadist positions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan it became a regular resource.
The investigation is based on 1,300 Pentagon reports of “incidents” that resulted in civilian casualties. They were obtained by the newspaper thanks to the law that establishes the obligatory transparency of the administrations. While the official version of the Pentagon has been presenting the drone bombings as a “surgical” action -clean and precise-, the reality of the events confirms a trail of erroneous or at least imprecise intelligence data, which was substantiated in “collateral damage. Unavoidable.
Like the attack that killed all ten members of the Ahmadi family, based on “consistent” information about an “imminent attack” on the Kabul airport, three days after a suicide bomber killed hundreds of people – and 13 US soldiers. – at the entrance to it, in the final stretch of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pentagon maintained for days that the terrorist threat was credible, congratulating itself on being able to “neutralize” the risk, but the real target of the attack was a local US NGO worker in Afghanistan … and nine members of his family, including six. minors. The real identity of the victims was revealed by international media, present in Kabul those days.
“The US air war has been marked by intelligence failures, hasty and imprecise missile fire, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, including many children,” the newspaper reported. “Not a single report [sobre los incidentes] results in a disciplinary sanction ”. The phrase seems the corollary of the Pentagon’s announcement on Monday, when, even assuming that the bombing of the Ahmadi family residence in Kabul was “a tragic mistake,” it closed the case, exempting the military implicated from liability. There were no files or disciplinary sanctions.
In five years, the US military launched more than 50,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. He has admitted to accidentally killing 1,417 civilians in the Fertile Crescent countries since 2014, when the commander-in-chief of the armed forces was President Barack Obama, who favored this method of combat. In Afghanistan, the recognized death toll of civilians is 188 since 2018.
The information in the newspaper has been compiled for months, with analysis of the documents obtained and on-the-spot verification of the data in the official archives in more than a hundred bombed sites. The number of fatalities among the civilian population has been “significantly underestimated” in the reports due to the so-called “confirmation bias”, the tendency to draw conclusions according to what is believed to be most probable, the newspaper explains.
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In this way, the military saw members of the rescue teams running towards the scene of a bombing as fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS, in its English acronym), so they proceeded to fire. The same thing happened, recalls the newspaper, with a group of motorcyclists who marched in formation: they were taken by terrorist elements by the Pentagon and turned into a military target. The identification errors were based on the aforementioned “confirmation bias”.
Democrat Obama’s promises of transparency later turned into “opacity and impunity” by the military high command. The newspaper has had to initiate several processes before the Pentagon and the Central Command (CENTCOM, in its English acronym) to be able to access the information. In 2016 alone, sanctions were adopted against a dozen military personnel for their role in an air attack in October 2015 on a hospital run by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which caused 42 fatalities. None of those sanctioned faced criminal charges.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.