A family in Afghanistan has been left to grieve over the loss of their children following a U.S. drone strike. The missile struck a car in Kabul on August 29th, killing 10 people, including 7 children. The U.S. initially stated that they were working on intelligence that suggested the car was full of explosives. These explosives were believed to be a part of a plan by the Islamic State to detonate a car bomb at Kabul airport. This comes as at least 100 Afghans and 13 US soldiers have been killed following multiple suicide bombings near Kabul International Airport in the previous weeks as more than 123,000 people were evacuated following the Taliban seizing power. However, now it has become apparent that the car was instead full of children.
A U.S. Central Command spokesman, Captain Bill Urban, said in a statement on the 31st of August that they were “aware of the report of civilian casualties following our airstrike on a vehicle in Kabul,” and that the U.S. military was investigating these reports “it is unclear what may have happened and we are investigating further.” Since this statement, the U.S. military has admitted to the mistaken death of the 10 family members.
Aimal Ahmadi, who lost his brother, nieces and nephews and own daughter in the attack, told AFP “the rocket came and hit the car full of kids inside our house. It killed all of them.” A neighbour of the Ahmadi family told AFP that it was impossible to find the remains of the children as the car was on fire. The three adults who were killed were just outside of the car, while the seven children were inside of the car playing. Aimal has since also spoken to Al Jazeera, where he demanded that Washington launch an investigation into the mistaken attack. Aimal lost 10 members of his family, and demands justice, “I want justice from the U.S.A. and other organisations. We are innocent people. We didn’t do any mistake.”
After weeks of denial, Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command, issued a public apology. General McKenzie stated, “at the time of the strike, I was confident that the strike had averted an imminent threat to our forces at the airport.” He went on to say “it was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apology.” He also announced the U.S. was considering reparation payments for the family. However, the U.S. has also stated that there will be no punishment for those who sanctioned and carried out the attack. Aimal says that an apology is not enough. He wants compensation and he wants those responsible to face punishment.
Unfortunately, civilian causalities have been part and parcel of U.S. drone strikes since 2000 when the U.S. Air Force and CIA became the first to successfully fit drones with missiles. The U.S. drone war was expanded massively under the Obama administration. While the drone programme has saved American lives by reducing the need for pilots and ground operations, it has also killed hundreds to thousands of civilians depending on which estimate you look at. Accurate data on civilian causalities is hard to collect. In 2016 the Obama administration put the number of civilians deaths caused by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa to be between 64 and 116 since he took office in 2009.
Human rights groups have always criticised the use of drones and targeted killing programmes for their clear violation of international humanitarian law. So far, this criticism has done little to stop such programmes from expanding, but this evidently needs to change. The difficulty is that the use of drones spares the lives of American military personnel, and therefore, makes American involvement in overseas conflicts more politically justifiable. The question is what value does the U.S. place on the lives of citizens who are not their own?
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