Hibben: Apologies for Military Mistakes Are Not Enough


(Chronicle Design Team)

By Aya Hibben, Opinion Writer


On Aug. 29, the United States military fired a drone missile in Afghanistan — a “righteous strike.” But really, this was a tragic mistake, killing 10 civilians, 7 of which were children.

The target, Zemari Ahmadi, was loading water bottles into his car, which made him suspicious. Before the U.S. admitted to this mistake, the New York Times published an article reviewing the security footage used to inform the drone strike and reported that the water bottles were not explosives at all.  Even as civilian deaths were being reported, the U.S. military applauded their own decision.

This is not the first time our military has made these mistakes. Our mistakes risk the safety and wellbeing of civilians.

The new developments in drone technology have made it possible for the U.S. military to conduct preventive strikes without soldiers touching the ground, but also raise questions about the efficacy of these drones and the information that is used to legitimize their use.

Without boots on the ground, methods of surveillance are especially important to inform military personnel of the right decisions to make. It’s strange that while the safety of our soldiers is improving, the safety of civilians is being jeopardized. 

These mistakes should not be brushed aside and attempted to be fixed with an apology. The loss of innocent civilian lives, foreign or American, should prompt a deeper look into what decisions our military is allowed to make. We must encourage not just accountability from our military, but also accurate military decisions. 

Military Mistakes in Afghanistan

The United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan ended with a hostile takeover of the Taliban-run government. Our war with Afghanistan is littered with mistakes that cost civilian lives. 

In 2019, a drone strike aimed at ISIS fighters accidentally targeted workers at a pine nut field. Thirty civilians were killed in addition to the 40 injured farmers. Witnesses say these workers were sitting at a bonfire together, much different from the hideout that the U.S. military intended to hit. There was no formal apology or explanation given by U.S. military officials.

In 2010, 23 Afghan citizens were killed by an accidental drone strike. The American military blamed drone operators instead of the military personnel involved.  These mistakes should not be justified, but rather should serve as a crucial reminder of our military’s failures. 

Are Drones Ethical Warfare?

Since 2010, drone strikes have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In addition, reports have found that previous U.S. administrations did not admit to the vast number of civilians killed in these strikes that independent investigations found.

These deaths should prompt questions into how effective these strikes are, and how ethical it is to fire upon an active site with the knowledge that civilians could be injured or killed. While the missions of our military to root out our enemies in these countries are paramount, the destruction we have caused to accomplish this should not be ignored or forgotten. 

Administrative Faults

The rules for drone warfare are limited. There is still no independent oversight of these strikes, meaning that the executive branch can provide little to no explanation for their actions.

In 2017, President Donald Trump loosened the “rules of engagement” and reversed actions by President Barack Obama to prevent drone strikes when citizen death was suspected. This led to a spike in drone strikes and civilian deaths, as more drones were allowed to fly without care for civilians.

President Biden is continuing steps by former presidents to use drones and air warfare. Using “over-the-horizon” methods, which are intelligence and attacks conducted from afar, he plans to maintain pressure on the Taliban organization in Afghanistan.

Experts have criticized these plans, as these methods are “not precise.” The latest drone strike has shown us that intelligence errors are easy to make and that these methods risk the lives of civilians who already face a bleak future. 

Drones and airstrikes were created to save both civilian and military lives. However, the intended effect of using this technology has led to a shocking number of causalities. This disrespect for human life is exactly the opposite of what our country strives for. 

Utah is currently preparing for the arrival of 765 Afghan refugees. This is a monumental step for our state and the improvement of all human life. If we want to create a safe, welcoming space for these individuals, we must expect the same treatment towards human beings in areas of conflict. 

Our military shouldn’t be making mistakes, and it shouldn’t be easy to tear apart the reasoning used to fire a missile. The executive branch should not have the power to make best guesses that risk civilian lives. These mistakes are not one of a single president, but rather of generations of presidents and military personnel. 

The lives of the innocent, especially in war-torn countries, should not be reduced to numbers or collateral damage. If the U.S. military wants to depend and rely on over-the-horizon methods, they must be accurate and without error. 


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