American Drone Pilot Reveals How He Mistakenly Killed an Afghan Child

Published August 25th, 2021 - 08:43 GMT
US drone pilot killed a n Afghan child, 2 civilians
National Guard troops board buses as they leave the Armory after ending their mission of providing security to the U.S. Capitol on May 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP
Highlights
US drone pilot leaks footage of his kills

American drone pilot working in Afghanistan mistakenly killed two Afghan civilians and a child, he has admitted,  as he questioned the tactics used amid America's ongoing withdrawal.

The pilot was working in Helmand province in 2019, he told the website Connecting Vets. It also shared leaked footage of drone strikes from multiple pilots interviewed, although images of the attack that killed the child were not included. 

He and other drone operators told the site of their dismay at the work with Task Force South West, saying they felt their drone strikes served little purpose when the Marines had essentially given up on Helmand. 

'The drone strikes were punitive. Killing for the sake of killing,' one of the operators said.

'It's nihilistic, there is no point,' said a second source, one of the drone operators. 

'It was clear that we were not making a difference.' 

A U.S. drone pilot working in Afghanistan mistakenly killed two Afghan civilians and a child, he has admitted,  as he questioned the tactics used amid America's ongoing withdrawal.

The pilot was working in Helmand province in 2019, he told the website Connecting Vets. It also shared leaked footage of drone strikes from multiple pilots interviewed, although images of the attack that killed the child were not included. 

He and other drone operators told the site of their dismay at the work with Task Force South West, saying they felt their drone strikes served little purpose when the Marines had essentially given up on Helmand. 

'The drone strikes were punitive. Killing for the sake of killing,' one of the operators said.

'It's nihilistic, there is no point,' said a second source, one of the drone operators. 

'It was clear that we were not making a difference.' 


The operator said that they were trying to kill an Afghan man on a motorbike who had been using a two-way radio - something which was common in Helmand, after the cell phone towers were taken out, and something which was also, in U.S. military eyes, reasonable grounds for suspicion.

'We were trying to kill a guy with a radio I'd found earlier in the day,' the operator wrote. 

'He rode right through the blast and kept going. I watched a passerby load the bodies into a truck and drive them to a hospital. They are all dead.' 

 

Barack Obama presided over an intense drone program, with 542 strikes killing an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians.

He was strongly criticized for expanding an extrajudicial policy that he inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W Bush. 

Donald Trump took the program even further, removing layers of authorization and oversight to make drone usage far easier.

'Obama sought to signal policy constraint, regulation, and layers of internal executive branch oversight for his killing rules; Trump explicitly signaled that the gloves were off to 'further U.S. national security interests,'' according to an ACLU report. 

Trump in May 2019 ended a rule requiring the reporting of all deaths from drone strikes. He also removed the requirement that the commanding general for Afghanistan approve the strike, and reduced it to field grade officers, normally at the task force or battalion level.

Barack Obama presided over an intense drone program, with 542 strikes killing an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians.

He was strongly criticized for expanding an extrajudicial policy that he inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W Bush. 

Donald Trump took the program even further, removing layers of authorization and oversight to make drone usage far easier.

'Obama sought to signal policy constraint, regulation, and layers of internal executive branch oversight for his killing rules; Trump explicitly signaled that the gloves were off to 'further U.S. national security interests,'' according to an ACLU report. 

Trump in May 2019 ended a rule requiring the reporting of all deaths from drone strikes. He also removed the requirement that the commanding general for Afghanistan approve the strike, and reduced it to field grade officers, normally at the task force or battalion level.

The move was seen, Connecting Vets say, as part of a process designed by the National Security Council, particularly by H.R. McMaster, to use a pressure campaign to force the Taliban to negotiate America's exit from Afghanistan in Doha.

'I think there were two major factors that really drove that change in Afghanistan,' Dr. Jonathan Schroden, Afghanistan and counter-terrorism analyst, told Connecting Vets. 

'It became increasingly clear that the Afghan security forces were not going to be capable enough to operate independently in a counterinsurgency type campaign anytime soon and it's arguable whether they would even ever get to that point on timelines that would be relevant.'

The second factor was the 'Trump administration decision to set aside the precondition that had existed before of insisting that the Afghan government be involved in any negotiations with the Taliban, and accepting the Taliban's condition for talks, which was that the U.S. would engage the Taliban directly,' he said.

'That shift in policy, and the subsequent direct engagement in negotiations with the Taliban, led to this idea that the U.S. needed to generate leverage in those talks. 

'Part of the way to do that or so that theory went was to increase military pressure on the Taliban.'

The intent was to speed up the pace of the strikes, in order to force the Taliban to the table in Doha.

One member of a drone team told the site that he left to go pick up his laundry during a lull in operations, saying he was absent for less than 15 minutes.

'When I came back my buddy was like, 'we killed a guy,' he said.

 


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

You may also like