A U.S. drone attack killed at least 30 pine nut farmers and wounded at least 40 others in Afghanistan this past Wednesday night. It was the most recent round of murders of innocent civilians by US forces as according to reports, the farmers were finishing up work and were sitting by a fire when the strike happened.
One farm laborer, Juma Gul, said “Some of us managed to escape, some were injured, but many were killed” as Retuers reported that there may be more farmers missing.
Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, said about 150 workers were there for harvesting, with some still missing as well as the confirmed dead and injured.
A survivor of the drone strike said about 200 laborers were sleeping in five tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened. (source)
When asked to give an official statement, U.S. Afghan campaign spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett said the attack was aimed at “Da’esh (IS) terrorists in Nangarhar” province, but refused to admit that it was innocent people who died. Instead, he said that the massacre was caused by “the Taliban” and not any accident from the US military.
“We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts,” said Leggett. “We are fighting in a complex environment against those who intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of noncombatant casualties as propaganda weapons.”
Various human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said in a statement that the strike was “unacceptable and suggests a shocking disregard for civilian life,” and added that “U.S. forces in Afghanistan must ensure that all possible precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties in military operations.”
National Security Advocacy Director for Human Rights First Rita Siemion noted in a response that the U.S. military cannot knowingly continue to use a process that repeatedly kills civilians by mistake.
“Mistakes can happen, but this strike is part of a pattern that suggests that there are serious flaws in the Pentagon’s targeting processes that need to be addressed,” said Siemion. “Knowingly using a process that fails to adequately distinguish between civilians and combatants would violate the laws of war and be detrimental to the overall mission.”
Journalists who cover the area also responded to the attack. One by the name of Emran Feroz said his reporting from the region indicates that “recent drone strikes in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district ended in a total massacre killing far more than 30 civilians…When I visited Khogyani in 2017, locals told us that drone strikes against farmers and other civilians are taking place regularly.”
MSNBC host Chris Hayes also tweeted about the incident on Thursday that Americans should pay attention to the attack and try to put themselves in Afghan shoes, saying “It is so easy to read this and be upset or shake your head and still see it as an abstraction,” said Hayes. “But take a second to play through a missile from, say, Iran landing in Iowa and killing 30 farmers and what that would do to domestic politics.”
The murders of innocent people by troops in war is not uncommon, but the US has demonstrated over the last decade a strong pattern of such attacks. While safety is good, one must also be sure to care for the well-being of others.
One may recall the infamous video footage exposed by WikiLeaks which showed a US military chopper machine gunner intentionally mowing down innocent people with his weapon and laughing about it on the video.
There was also the infamous Abu Ghraib scandal, where prisoners were tortured, raped, and humiliated is perverted ways by US military personnel while in custody. It was only after photos of the abuse were revealed that the story was brought to the public and those involved at the low ends were prosecuted, but higher-ranking military were never called to prosecution for their involvement in it.
The nature of this being a drone strike also raises concerns about the nature of the attack, for was it a strike directed by a human being, or was it a “threat” determined by an AI computer system whose “mistake” resulted in the deaths of almost three dozen? This question is significant at a time when AI is being used increasingly to replace the functions of soldiers on the battlefield and is being programmed with greater degrees of autonomy, including the programming capacity to make life-or-death decisions without human input .
Could this have been a test, similar to the “driverless trucks” who have had accidents, but this one with a military robot?
What one can conclude definitively is that on that day, thirty people, most likely very poor, went to work and never came home because of an “error”. It does not matter who or what caused the error, but a bunch of people died. If this was in the US and involved just one person, and that person did not die, if the man accused was a civilian, he would be placed into a mock trial and likely jailed for life or fined into perpetual impoverishment. But if it involves people in Afghanistan and the such, then hardly so much of a statement is given, and one that denies any responsibility, because nobody cares for the dead, and as far as the military is concerned, the sooner the crisis can go away and the public focus on another topic the better so that business as usual might remain.