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Murder, by the numbers.

 

“Matters were moving toward a climax. Reliant on bulletins from the Predator crew, the captain commanding the raiding party on the ground had interpreted the news that the convoy was now heading away from the Americans on the ground as confirmation not only that the enemy was “maneuvering” but that it contained an HVI (high-value individual), always a priority target for U.S. forces in this war. He gave the order to strike. The helicopters would take the first shot. The helicopter crews, who had come on the scene late, were simply informed that there had been positive identification of three weapons, at a minimum, along with twenty-one MAMs, and that they were “clear to engage.” No one had told them about adolescents, still less children. Two continents and an ocean away, the reaperdronePredator crew in Nevada made their own final preparations for action.

8:35 a.m.

Pilot: Alright, so the plan is, man, uh, we’re going to watch this thing go down and when they Winchester [run out of ammunition] we can play cleanup.

Sensor: Initial plan: without seeing how they break up, follow the largest group.

Pilot: Yeah, sounds good. When it all comes down, if everybody is running in their separate direction, I don’t care if you just follow one guy, you know like whatever you decide to do, I’m with you on it . . . as long as you keep somebody that we can shoot in the field of view I’m happy.

The crew was now making final preparations for the attack, arming the missile and going through the final checklist. The sensor operator reminded his intelligence colleague to focus on the business at hand.

8:45 a.m.

Sensor: Hey, MC.

Mission intelligence controller: Yes?

Sensor: Remember, Kill Chain!

MIC: Will do.

The first missile from the lead helicopter scored a direct hit on the pickup, instantly killing eleven passengers. The two following SUVs jerked to a halt, and the passengers began frantically to scramble out. The second missile hit the rearmost vehicle, but in the engine block, which absorbed enough of the blast to allow some of the passengers to escape. Four died immediately. The third missile missed the middle SUV, barely, with the blast blowing out the rear window as passengers bailed out. As a matter of routine, the attackers pursued these squirters, their word for people fleeing a strike, with 2.75” rockets, though all of these missed.

Then someone noticed something strange. The people who had escaped were not running.

8:52 a.m.

Sensor: That’s weird.

Pilot: Can’t tell what the fuck they’re doing.

Safety observer: Are they wearing burqas?

Sensor: That’s what it looks like.

Pilot: They were all PIDed as males. No females in the group.

Sensor: That guy looks like he’s wearing jewelry and stuff like a girl, but he ain’t . . . if he’s a girl, he’s a big one.

Despite the sensor operator’s hopeful theory, these were not Taliban in drag but women who had scrambled out and were waving their brightly colored scarves at the circling helicopters, which eventually ceased fire. Twenty-three people had been killed, including two boys, Daoud, three years old, and Murtaza, four. Eight men, one woman, and three children aged between five and fourteen were wounded, many of them severely.

9:10 a.m.

Mission intelligence coordinator: Screener said there weren’t any women earlier.

Sensor: What are those? They were in the middle vehicle.

Mission intelligence coordinator: Women and children.

The conversation in the Nevada trailer was losing its previously jaunty tone, as MAMs became mothers, and adolescents turned back into children.

9:15 a.m.

Pilot: It looks like, uh, one of those in the, uh, bright garb may be carrying a child as well.

Sensor: Younger than an adolescent to me.

Safety observer: Well . . .

Safety observer: No way to tell, man.

Sensor: No way to tell from here.

Soon afterward the Predator turned and flew away ahead of bad weather that was moving in from the west.

Even as the wreckage burned and shell-shocked survivors stumbled about, news was beginning to spread. Local villagers were soon on the scene, and within an hour Taliban radios were broadcasting word that “forty to fifty civilians” had been killed by an American air strike. By early afternoon, the reports had reached the Palace, the crenellated nineteenth-century fortress in the middle of Kabul that housed President Hamid Karzai. Meanwhile, U.S. military communications were proving rather less efficient.

The sudden, silent, flash of the first missile that incinerated the pickup and passengers on their screens caught most of the spectators in Afghanistan and the United States entirely by surprise. The intricate network of observation, control, and communication linking the myriad headquarters and intelligence centers stretching between Nevada and Kabul had somehow failed to alert participants—other than the crews actually pulling or preparing to pull the triggers—that events had reached their natural conclusion, and people were about to die. Then, even when it was almost immediately clear that things had not gone according to plan, the news moved at glacial speed through the U.S. command system. Messages rumbled back and forth between different headquarters regarding BOG (boots on the ground), meaning sending someone to have a close-up look at the scene for BDA (battle damage assessment).

Eventually helicopters were sent to bring the raiding party itself to the site where the dead bodies, or at least those that were intact, had been laid out by villagers who had flocked to the scene. The captain, according to a brother officer, was in a state of panic, searching fruitlessly for a weapon, anything, that would justify this as a legitimate target. “He wasn’t finding anything. I think it overwhelmed him.” Special Operations Task Force headquarters meanwhile told him “not to second-guess yourself; we’ll figure it out later.”

The captain was not the only officer to panic. Despite the services of a multibillion-dollar system of intelligence and communication, it took twelve hours for news that the U.S. had killed twenty-three civilians to make its way up the chain. Despite confirmation from the helicopter crews, the Predator team, and the troops that arrived on the scene, successive layers of Special Operations commanders refused to report CIVCAS (civilian casualties). Bizarrely, the technology was less efficient than the Taliban’s. With the inflated volume of traffic, emails were taking four and a half hours to move through the classified system from Kandahar to Kabul.

Only when surgeons at a Dutch military hospital talked to their U.S. counterparts about the wounded civilians that had just been admitted was the truth officially disclosed, but by that time, anyone in Afghanistan with a radio already knew. At the time, Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and allied commander, was laboring to garner support among Afghans by restricting airstrikes in an effort to reduce civilian casualties. He was not pleased to hear the belated reports from Uruzgan, and raced over to President Karzai’s palace to tender his apologies. “I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief,” he declared on Afghan television two days later. “I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans.”     

Families of the dead ultimately received $5,000 each, plus one goat.”

[Source:Counterpunch]

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