Article: Afghan civilians wrongfully killed by an American drone strike

In this New York Times article, authors Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Azmat Khan, Evan Hill and Christoph Koettl write about the newly declassified footage of the U.S.’ MQ-9 Reaper drone killing 10 innocent civilians including 7 children in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 29, 2021.

The U.S. military released two videos of their wrongful airstrike, and although this was a ‘rare step’ by them, the recordings had unfortunately been cut down from eight hours to a total of twenty-five minutes. This sparked controversy and raised questions among the journalists of the Times. They indicated that it is unclear what happened to the remaining footage, but this “may be the subject of further litigation”. The videos can be viewed here.

The Times’ next steps was to provide a detailed video where the authors describe the actions taken by the U.S. military before wrongfully targeting a presumed IS terrorist. American operators surveilled a white Toyota Corolla for eight hours thinking it was an IS terrorist preparing to detonate a bomb at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. This was due to a suicide bomber killing at least 182 civilians including 13 American troops a few days earlier. They thus took every precaution to kill any believed threat. After the drone had killed the ‘target’ in the white Toyota Corolla, it was later found out to be Zemari Ahmadi, an employee at Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid organisation. Children and family members of Zemari were killed alongside him.

The journalists who have written this article make it clear that even the most trained drone operators can get their suspicions wrong, which can evidently lead to disastrous effects. The Times retrieved a collection of military reviews concerning the civilian casualties in the air war against IS in Iraq and Syria, and found multiple ‘confirmation bias’ incidents. This proves that remote-operated drones still lead to unrightful civilian deaths.

The authors conclude the article by indicating that the U.S. government offered to pay compensation to the victims’ families and aid workers from Nutrition and Education International. However, Hina Shamsi, the lawyer representing these clients, has indicated that no such compensation has been provided to this day. This case is an example of one of many where innocent civilians have become bystanders of the remote war in Afghanistan. The U.S. is a strong example of a state that lacks transparency and accountability when it comes to acknowledging the civilian harm cases. Alongside the U.S., no other country conducting remote warfare has been legally responsible for the collateral damage caused by them.

Written by IRW LAB student Eva Akerboom.