In a horrific late Friday afternoon news dump, the Pentagon confirmed what was widely suspected: their investigation had concluded that a drone strike conducted on the way out of Afghanistan killed an aid worker and members of his family, including children, rather than an ISIS-K terrorist. What had once been defended as a "righteous strike" was now a "tragic mistake."
If we are not careful, it is one that will be repeated regularly. Because the risk to American personnel is significantly less than having boots on the ground, there will be a temptation to promiscuous drone strikes as an easy counterrorism solution. But in addition to the immorality of inflicting death on civilians, errant strikes and collateral damage come with a terrorism risk.
The family of the aid worker could be radicalized against the United States. If such killings occur with increasing frequency, this effect could ripple throughout the Afghan population. Consider: Would Americans have ever wanted to make war against, or even thought much about, Afghanistan if it wasn't for the 9/11 attacks? We still must ask whether we are killing more terrorists than we are creating.
Those of us who wish to end the forever wars that came after 9/11 and also prevent future iterations of the attacks on our country must grapple with what happened to Zemari Ahmadi. An inherent risk of the "over the horizon" strategy rightly touted as an alternative to permanent occupation of foreign lands is that we keep bombing but with intelligence inferior to that which we can gather on the ground. There remains a strong need for a sufficient intelligence capability monitoring potential threats, neither missing them before they hit the homeland nor misunderstanding them and harming the innocent.
The dreadful alternative calls to mind a trenchant exchange Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had with Secretary of State Antony Blinken while the drone strike was still under review. "We can't sort of have an investigation after we kill people," the Kentucky Republican said. "We have an investigation before we kill people."