Thursday, October 21, 2021

Afghan drone strike ’caused civilian deaths’

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, following a 2015 interview with Charlie Rose

A 2015 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 18 civilians is raising concerns that the Biden Doctrine for countering terrorism is being hindered by errors of judgement.

The drone strike, carried out against the Taleban in 2017, took place while US defence secretary Chuck Hagel was in Kabul.

In a leaked email quoted by the Guardian, Mr Hagel said: “What is happening today is a tragedy.”

In a statement, the retired Navy admiral blamed the US military.

And Mr Hagel is not the only person to express concern.

The New York Times newspaper said the strike had been carried out by a munitions system known as a laser-guided bomb, or GBU-43B.

But it had apparently been deployed “after two Ground forces entered a compound where a trusted Taleban terrorist was meeting a diplomat”, it said.

The weapons were supposed to damage only the Taleban leader’s house and nothing else, but the weapon “entered and over-crowded a crowded market, triggering a chain of events leading to the deaths of 17 men and women”.

Responding to the Guardian, the U.S Forces Afghanistan command said the airstrike was authorised by US commanders, and “strongly condemned”.

“The loss of innocent lives caused by errors in judgement must never happen again,” it said.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption There were also calls for an investigation into air strikes against civilians during elections

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University urged an investigation into the strike – which it said raised “very serious questions about the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy”.

“Previous reports of mistakes or operational failures related to the use of air power in Afghanistan have focused on either civilian or enemy casualties. This incident, however, involves the loss of innocent lives among non-combatants, raising very serious questions about the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy,” it said.

US Army Maj Matthew Griffin – whose report was ordered by the US military – told the Guardian “the truth will come out”.

“These statements are not true,” he said.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul said the embassy was working with Afghan authorities.

“We have no reason to question the conduct of operations that were conducted with the support of Afghan security forces, which have acted under great difficulty,” he said.

Former US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, following a 2015 interview with Charlie Rose

The defence secretary at the time, Robert Gates, said the strikes were “human mistakes” made by a poorly-led and poorly-communicated military.

The US military had used these so-called weapons “haphazardly, not in a considered manner, in a random fashion”, Mr Gates said.

It is now up to President Trump’s defence secretary James Mattis, who took over in January, to decide what happens next.

It is not clear whether Mr Mattis plans to launch an inquiry.

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