In the days following an airstrike that killed 14 people in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz last month, official reports of the incident followed a familiar but disturbing routine.
Initially, the Afghan military claimed responsibility for the strike, but denied that the victims were civilians. "It is propaganda by the enemy," an Afghan army officer told The New York Times, before suggesting that perhaps it was the Taliban who were responsible for the deaths.
But reports from the scene soon punched holes in that story. The attack had targeted a house where 20 people lived, including women and children—at least thee of whom were killed in the attack. Not even a few days later, the strike was revealed by local and U.S. military officials to be an American airstrike. The U.S. military opened an investigation.
That investigation ended last week, with the Pentagon absolving itself of responsibilty for the attack.
"After carefully considering all relevant and reasonably available information, which included a review of the Afghan government's report of findings, our investigation found no credible information to corroborate the allegations," U.S. Army Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman, said in a statement to Reuters.
The confusion and disarray following the attack is aggravated by the fact that the Afghan Ministry of Defense corroborated the civilian status of the victims, according to the Times, and issued an apology for the attack. Additionally, the dead included eleven women and children, with one as young as three years old, hardly fit for fighting. Since the Taliban do not admit women fighters, it seems unusual that so many of them would be killed in an attack supposedly aimed only at insurgents. The New York Times reports that this is the third such event since 2016 in which American airstrikes were blamed for the loss of civilians. One of these events even involved the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 42 and even warranted an apology from the president.
While the reports differ on who did the killing and who was killed, there's no doubt that civilian deaths in Afghanistan continue to rise. The United Nations found that there was a 52 percent increase in the number of civilians killed by airstrikes in the first half of this year. Recently, the U.S. has embraced a policy of conducting more airstrikes in an effort to force the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, but the policy has been to no avail.
America has been involved in Afghanistan since 1978 when it funded and armed anti-communist revolutionaries, many of whom would take up these same arms against the United States in 2001. Despite this long history in the region, we have remarkably little to show for it but more government lies, more debt, and more civilian deaths.
It's estimated that taxpayers will pay $45 billion this year for America's efforts in Afghanistan, about half of which will go to bureaucratic waste and corruption. A BBC report found that, even with this spending, the Taliban operates in 70 percent of Afghanistan and the Islamic State is more active in the area than it's ever been.
How is this possible, one might ask? Turns out dropping bombs on innocent people doesn't do much for their morale and, in fact, pushes people towards radical fringe movements like the Taliban. Displacing innocent civilians and killing local noncombatants is a surefire recipe for powerful Taliban propaganda that only solidifies the already powerful anti-American sentiments present throughout the Afghan mountains.