Drone Strike Kills 14 In Afghanistan, Civilians Or ISIS?

Afghanistan, (TFC)— Days ago, it was reported that a group of ISIS militants was slaughtered by US drones in Afghanistan. However, local officials insist all the dead were civilians in a remote village. The bombs land in the shadow of President Trump’s loosening of drone regulations, and something else. A long-held tradition of branding the dead in distant lands as militants, while they’re neighbors disagree.

According to the Guardian, Afghanistan’s government has no power over the region of Kunar Province. Officials say the strike was conducted on an alleged meeting of Islamic State militants and leadership. Currently, 15 were confirmed as having been swallowed by the hellfire.

However, Kunar’s local government officials appear to disagree on who the dead were. Whereas provincial governor spokesperson Abdul Ghani Musamim called the dead militants, Kunar’s MP Shahzada Shaheed insisted they were civilians. To date, the US government hasn’t offered comment on the strike or who was killed.

It’s often the case with these strikes, particularly ones in distant areas isolated by unconventional warfare. Especially in Afghanistan, various areas or even roads are color coordinated according to threat level. Green is safe, red is self-explanatory but black indicates dark zones. Places things like this tend to happen, too far for journalists for normally follow up. If there’s no one around to investigate, or even report the dead, then it’s easy to brand them as militants. Even if it was civilians, will this strike set some precedent for escalated warfare against Afghan-ISIS? How precise would that war be?

During the Obama Administration, it was admitted that drones aren’t the surgical tools they were marketed as. Before a strike can happen, operatives must gather intelligence on the target. These days, a bulk of that is “signals intelligence”, gathered from devices like cell phones. Using methods championed by the NSA (National Security Agency), signal intelligence always includes metadata. Digital information collected through various means.

Everything culminates in the elimination of a target(s) holding a known device, in a known vehicle or place associated with that target. However, in reality a large percentage of drone strikes kill civilians and little else. More than once, the death of this militant commander, or that former general is announced only for the person to be re-killed months later. A phone is not a person, and although surveillance measures in these operations are sophisticated they’re not perfect. Which is why Trump loosening regulations on drone strikes shocked many.

Since taking office, President Trump has brought ire to these apparently discrete clandestine actions. His first commando raid in Yemen slaughtered a village including a young child, and at least one Navy SEAL operative. Throughout his campaign, Trump proclaimed an open witch hunt for militants that could even target their families. It seemed like blood to be shed quietly in the sand and dirt was on the horizon. We’re now living in said reality, yet are no closer to knowing what’s really ground-side.

Currently, Afghan authorities aren’t allowing anyone access to the bomb site. The Islamic State has a very limited presence in Afghanistan after recent years of trial and error. When the militant group first remapped the Middle East, it didn’t take long for reports to surface in Western Afghanistan. However, the Taliban quickly decapitated ISIS cells, sometimes literally.

While it appeared the group retreated for a time, it appears they’ve made a shallow resurgence. Officially, IS has less than 1000 fighters in a lethal, unwelcoming country. Three months ago Abu Sayed, an apparent ISIS in Afghanistan leader, was allegedly killed in a US strike. His predecessor was killed in a joint US-Afghan operation which also knocked off alleged ISIS militants. Whether Abu Sayed will be killed again in the coming months remains to be seen. Without outside aid, it would appear the Islamic State’s Afghan offshoot is of limited operational capacity.

Image Source: Greg Goebel, Flickr, Creative Commons

A video surfaced in the days after the recent Afghan drone strike allegedly showing villagers praying for the civilian victims. However, the video is untranslated and no corpses are shown throughout. The Fifth Column News is currently attempting to verify if the video is in fact related to the strike. It’s being shared here for the sake of providing as much context as possible.

If the drone strike did, in fact, kill civilians, then the US may have made more enemies for itself. Civilian deaths are routinely used by militant groups to lure vengeful families into the fold. The cycle only feeds the Taliban’s numbers, and perhaps even a budding Islamic State cell.