‘Killing for the sake of killing’: Disillusioned US drone pilots leak footage of air strikes against unarmed Afghans, media says
American drone pilots have leaked video of “punitive” and “nihilistic” strikes in Afghanistan in 2019 that led to the killing of civilians, including at least one child, as the US looked for an exit strategy in the two-decade war.
The footage, published on Tuesday as part of an investigation by military news outlet Connecting Vets, reportedly reveals how successive US administrations and defense strategists relaxed the rules of engagement in Afghanistan – as part of a policy to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table.
However, drone operators interviewed by the outlet claimed the loosened rules around air strikes served “no point” and did not “make a difference” – with one pilot stating that it was “killing for the sake of killing.” The strikes also reportedly killed far more civilians than the Pentagon has admitted.
Not only were Afghans targeted with lethal strikes for using or touching a radio, but DOD would kill people if a Scan Eagle pilot thought maybe he saw an antenna sticking out from under his clothes for a moment, or caught (maybe) a glimpse of a tac vest.https://t.co/5ez5wjoJ74pic.twitter.com/cfO2ji6DuM— Jack Murphy (@JackMurphyRGR) August 24, 2021
An unidentified pilot, who worked with the Marines as part of ‘Task Force South West’ in the country’s Helmand province in 2019, said he had been traumatized by one mistaken killing and shared a journal account of the incident with the site.
My productivity today was derailed. We killed two innocent men and a charger [military slang for a child]. They were on a motorcycle and by dumb luck drove into the same intersection as our target as the hellfire [missile] struck.
The operator said the target was an Afghan man on a bike who had been using a two-way radio – which were commonly used in Helmand after cellular towers were downed.
However, the target “rode right through the blast and kept going,” the pilot wrote, adding that he “watched a passerby load the bodies into a truck and drive them to a hospital. They are all dead.”
The account was corroborated by a military official involved in the operation who spoke to the site on condition of anonymity. While the Afghan on the radio – whose name or connection to the Taliban was never discovered – drove off through the smoke like a “Bond villain,” the official said the “two adults and a toddler on the other motorcycle ... were killed right off.”
But the Connecting Vets report noted that the Department of Defense (DoD) recorded only one civilian casualty on the date of the strike, which was “likely the toddler,” while leaving out the two adult males who “just happened to be there.”
US Central Command, which had jurisdiction over military operations in the area, did not respond to questions submitted by the site.
Drone operators told the site about being disillusioned with the task force, whose Marines had apparently already given up on Helmand. By 2019, the province was largely under the control of the Taliban, with “virtually no American ground patrols ... and not many Afghan military ones”.
One of the drone pilots told me they would fly into new grid squares each day and watch from above, "waiting for them to fuck up," so they could drop a hellfire missile on someone.— Jack Murphy (@JackMurphyRGR) August 24, 2021
According to the outlet, the military had “transitioned from intelligence-driven targeting to using a target engagement criteria” such as holding a rifle, but the threshold for coming under suspicion could be easily crossed by unarmed adult men.
Last year, the DoD released air power summaries for Afghanistan that showed a six-fold increase from less than a thousand strikes in 2015 to 7,423 strikes in 2019.
According to a 2017 report by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, Barack Obama “vastly [expanded] and [normalized] the use of armed drones for counterterrorism” to the tune of 542 strikes, killing roughly 3,797 people in various countries.
Under Donald Trump, authorization for drone strikes was delegated to field commanders as part of a National Security Council strategy to get the Taliban to agree on an exit strategy for US forces.Also on rt.com Biden mulling Afghanistan AIRSTRIKES to destroy US military equipment abandoned to Taliban, but only after evacuations – reports
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