War on Terror

Released Video Footage Shows Disastrous U.S. Drone Strike That Killed Kabul Family

Surveillance clearly shows children nearby as strike was called on man mistaken for a terrorist.

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Drone footage of an American military strike in Kabul in August that killed 10 civilians (seven of whom were children) shows that children were nearby in the moments leading up to the explosion.

The New York Times today published clips of 25 minutes of footage from two drones, MQ-9 Reapers, showing the strike. The newspaper sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get the footage. The August 29 strike, right as the United States was pulling the last of its troops out of Afghanistan, was called on a man military intelligence believed was an Islamic State terrorist plotting to bomb the airport, and they believed they were hitting a terrorist compound when they struck his car.

The military intelligence was all incorrect. The man they had been following was Zemari Ahmadi, a civilian worker for a California-based food aid organization. The "compound" he had parked the car in as the drone struck him was a home full of family and children.

We still don't know why the military incorrectly thought Ahmadi was a terrorist, and this drone footage unfortunately does not provide clarity. But the footage from both drones shows that children were nearby at the time of the strike. One view from directly above is less clear—black-and-white footage showing heat sources—but there still seem to unmistakably be small bodies moving around near the car just before the strike. A second drone nearby shows higher resolution footage, where it's much more clear that children were in the alleyway by the house just prior to the strike.

That the strike happened anyway is apparently part and parcel for how the military has used drones in the War on Terror. It's why whistleblowers have been warning us all along that the U.S. has been misleading us by claiming these strikes are precise, and capable of taking out terrorists without collateral damage.

The footage certainly reinforces the analysis The New York Times published in December that determined that not only has the military dramatically under counted the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other countries, it also seems to have very little interest in analyzing what causes strikes to go bad and has done a poor job of analyzing its failures. Furthermore, it was operational policy for the military to call for drone strikes even when children were present if officials could argue that there was an important "military advantage" gained by the strike.

So even if military intelligence saw the same thing we can all see in the footage, their underlying assumption that Ahmadi was transporting bombs for an attack on the airport may well have overruled any concern for the nearby children.

If nothing else comes from this horrible disaster of a drone strike (the Pentagon has concluded that proper procedures were followed—despite the horrific outcome—and nobody will be disciplined), Americans will understand now that we were all sold a complete lie about how military drones were to be and are used. Hopefully, this video comes to mind the next a government official brings them up as a better form of military intervention.