The news was official. It was confirmed. The papers have it on the record.
Hellfire, the Pentagon confirmed the report. That building has more PR staff confirming things than colonels writing op-orders.
After 13 Americans and more than 100 Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing late last month, as the Americans evacuated Kabul's airport, the president of the United States looked into the cameras and told the bad guys that we were coming after them with everything we had. Only hours later, a drone flying over Afghanistan zeroed in on a target, and a military officer--stationed somewhere in the world--authorized the drone operator to launch a Hellfire missile. The target was obliterated.
This has happened thousands of times before. But this one is especially noteworthy because it was in retaliation for the suicide bomb at the airport, and it stopped another suicide bomber from continuing with his plans. Or so we were all told.
"U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamid Karzai International airport," one of Central Command's PR staff said in a statement. "We are confident we successfully hit the target."
Imminent threat. ISIS. Confident we hit target.
The details make the story. According to dispatches, "significant secondary explosions" erupted after the Hellfire missile blew up, indicating that the vehicle contained "a substantial amount" of explosives. A general named Mark Milley, who's been in the news lately, called the strike "righteous."
And you'll notice that the statement from the U.S. military included the phrase "over-the-horizon," to mesh with the president's promise that the Americans won't be completely blind in Afghanistan, and will continue to wage war on terrorists there--only we'll not do it with boots on the ground. We will be prepared to take out any Osama bin Laden wannabe who pokes his head over the rampart with our "over-the-horizon" capabilities. Including drone strikes launched from other countries or oceans.
A friend tells us that he doesn't usually believe a story in the media until three or four days after it publishes, after more information comes from more sources and more people have had time to question the first reports. That's a shame that people feel they must initially distrust media reports. It's a shame for our American media and a shame for the faith in our institutions.
Here's how we now understand what happened in that drone attack:
MQ-9 Reaper drones were sent out over Kabul after the suicide bombing at the airport, looking for clues and possible follow-up actions by the terrorists. Information came in that a sedan could be used in the next attack. For some reason, drones began following a white Toyota Corolla in Kabul. The Americans could follow it easily with high-resolution cameras. The military watched it stop and go at several spots around the city. And noted that several men were packing it with large bundles. After enough "evidence" was gathered, the U.S. military hit it hard.
After media investigations and military reviews, the Pentagon acknowledged late last week that the drone attack was a tragic mistake. It killed 10 civilians, including seven children. From Time magazine's version of events: "What the military believed was an ISIS-K operative turned out to be a longtime worker for a U.S. aid organization, Zemari Ahmadi, who had no link to the terror group. What the military believed was a terrorist safe house turned out to be a home full of small children. What the military believed were explosives were most likely water bottles."
Now the media is filled with photographs of weeping parents with their own photos of their young children.
There are a few minimal steps that the Americans should take at this point.
First, reports say that the families mistakenly attacked were not just ordinary Afghans but several adults who had worked with the Americans during the war and were actively trying to get visas to the United States. If that is accurate, then those visas for remaining family members should be granted soonest. Second, the families should be compensated for their losses, and we don't even know where to start in that calculation. One of the victims was 2 years old.
Third, the military should not only investigate how it made this mistake, but publicly release the details on the steps it will take to make sure it never happens again.
There is too much tragedy happening in Afghanistan now for the Americans to make everything worse with these kinds of mistakes. But perhaps it is to be expected with the new over-the-horizon plan, complete with overhead drones, expensive cameras, and no boots on the ground.