A Wednesday night U.S. drone strike intended for Islamic State forces killed 30 pine nut farmers in Afghanistan and wounded an additional 40 civilians. Reports indicate more are missing.
The victims of this strike were reportedly sitting around a fire after a long day of work when the drone strike hit Nangarhar Province.
Although Wednesday's strike was particularly large, these farmers are only a small proportion of an estimated 1,366 civilian deaths that have occurred in Afghanistan as part of ongoing warfare in the nation from January to July of 2019.
Andrea Prasow, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, calls the situation in Afghanistan "excruciating," largely due to the remote nature of the conflict. Prasow notes that warfare was significantly altered when actual U.S. presence in Afghanistan was abandoned in favor of drone warfare.
"We've been seeing [and] documenting [these] kinds of drone strikes for years," Prasow tells Reason. She notes that civilians have been bearing the costs of drone strikes due to an array of issues that arise from their use, including "faulty information, poor targeting, poor warning systems, and [the] inability to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants."
Prasow also says the increasingly remote nature of warfare has lowered the risk for a key aspect of warfare: retaliation.
"It used to be the case that if you bombed the wrong village, you would have a whole bunch of angry villagers outside your base, [providing] an additional motivation" to conduct warfare in a less aggressive manner, Prasow says. So while reducing our physical military presence in Afghanistan is welcome, it may not be easing tensions if we're just replacing on-the-ground soldiers with drone strikes.
The U.S. government makes it hard for its citizens to know how frequently these drone strikes go awry. As Reason's Scott Shackford reported earlier this year, Daniel Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, was arrested on May 9 and charged with espionage for leaking information in 2013 and 2014 to journalists that revealed that the government has been classifying anybody the U.S. killed via drone strike as enemy combatants. This suggests that the actual number of civilian deaths could be even higher than what has been acknowledged by the government.