Last US strike in Afghanistan an Analogy for the War itself

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"Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS)" by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By Brian Garvey

Hayat, 2,  Malika, 3, Somaya, 3, Benyamin, 6, Arwin, 7, Farzad, 10, Faisal, 16, Zamir, 20, Naser, 30, and Zemarai, 43. These are the innocent victims of the last US airstrike on Afghanistan.

Relatives and neighbors survey the damage to vehicles in the courtyard of the home of Mr. Ahmadi. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Relatives and neighbors survey the damage to vehicles in the courtyard of the home of Mr. Ahmadi. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

After over two weeks of denials and obfuscations, the US military finally admitted that on August 29th they killed 10 civilians, including 7 children, with a hellfire missile. The target, Zemarai Ahmadi, was not a terrorist transporting explosives. He was an aid worker carrying harmless containers of water. It was a mistake that Zemarai and his family paid for with their lives.

Zemarai worked for a US aid group based in California called Nutrition and Education International. He was applying for a visa to get his family to America. But the US military didn’t know that, or care to know it, before they assassinated him and his family. In fact, they didn’t even know Zemarai’s name before ordering his death. They carried out the strike purely on suspicion.

In a press conference on September 17th General Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of US Central Command admitted, “It is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces.” He went on to offer his condolences and apologies to the friends and families of the victims. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also offered his apologies. He had originally called the mass killing a “righteous strike.”

Neither man, nor any US official connected to the mass murder, has offered their resignation.

To borrow a phrase from a former German Prime Minister, “When does incompetence end and criminality begin?” Are there consequences for killing 7 children, whether by accident, from negligence, or with malintent? The Peace movement, and the nation, are reflecting on the lessons of America’s longest war, but how can we learn and grow, as a people, if there is no accountability for crimes like this?

The negligent mass killing of civilians perpetrated by the US military on August 29th was directly connected to another terrorist act, perpetrated just 3 days earlier by ISIS-K. That attack, at the Kabul international Airport, killed 170 people, including 13 members of the US military. It prompted President Joe Biden to swear vengeance, vowing “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down. We will make you pay.” The remark reminds one of the sentiment following September 11th, 2001. The desire for revenge clouded judgment in both cases. 

The strike that killed Zemarai Ahmadi and his family is tragic, but the greater tragedy is that it is by no means extraordinary. Instead it is part of a pattern, just another thread in the 20 year war in Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror as a whole. Zemarai Ahmadi was not a terrorist. He and his family didn’t have anything to do with ISIS-K or the attack at the Kabul airport. They weren’t a threat to anyone.

There are millions of people like Zemarai and his family, human beings who were killed, wounded, and displaced during America’s 20 year war on terror. Like these latest victims they had nothing to do with the al-Qaeda attack on September 11th that led to two decades of war. They were not a threat to the United States or its people. They are collateral damage, unintended casualties in a boondoggle created by a country acting from greed, fear, and hate.

The end of the war in Afghanistan is positive, a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing foreign policy record from the new Biden Administration. If the country is truly going to move on from the mistakes of the last 20 years, we must do more than abandon an unwinnable war. The lessons from America’s longest war must be internalized in the minds of its citizens and policy-makers alike. Change must be substantial. To start:

  1. The U.S. must stop making war on Afghanistan. No drone strikes, bombings, special forces, or aid to rebel groups.
  2. Engage with the Taliban and establish normal relations with the new government.   Pay reparations to the Afghan people for the harm we have caused.  Accept all Afghan refugees.
  3. Support regional diplomacy by convening Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and others to guarantee the neutrality and support the stability and development of Afghanistan.
  4. Clean house in Washington.  Conduct a thorough investigation of the lies, fraud and mismanagement.  Remove all the lying and incompetent generals and national security officials who managed the war for the past 20 years.
  5. End other U.S. interventions in the Middle East by withdrawing troops from Syria and Iraq, ending arms sales and military assistance to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel, ending sanctions on Syria and Iran, and rejoining the Iran nuclear deal.
  6. Repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force.  Pass the National Security Powers Act  (S.2391) to ensure that any future military interventions, arms sales, and sanctions are approved by Congress and have limited terms.
  7. Deeply cut the Pentagon budget and use the funds made available to resettle refugees, launch a global COVID-19 vaccination drive, greatly reduce inequality in our country, and address the climate catastrophe.

The United States must abandon policies of reckless violence based on retribution. The country must look to negotiate, not to coerce. It must begin to value the lives of others as it do our own. In short, we must learn humility. And we must remember Zemarai Ahmadi.