A US Air Force veteran has blasted America’s drone policy, saying fear and a failure to collect proper intelligence led to the botched strike that killed an Afghan aid worker, two other men and seven children in Kabul in August.
Ian Fritz, served in the Air Force from 2008 to 2013 as an airborne cryptologic linguist. While he himself has not flown a drone, he has gathered intelligence and orchestrated strikes by drones and helicopter gunships.
He says his Air Force record attributes him with 123 enemies killed in action.
Fritz criticized the culture around America’s use of drones and its intelligence gathering skills, saying it can be blinded by ‘fear of the enemy.’
‘We wholeheartedly believe that our intelligence is so good, our weapons so accurate, and our mission so righteous that anyone who gets caught in the crossfire, or the Hellfire, is worth it. Even kids,’ Fritz wrote in The Atlantic.
The Pentagon has revealed that Zemari Ahmadi, 43, had been mistaken for an ISIS-K terrorist as they both drove a white 1996 Toyota Corolla and intelligence officers mistook bottles of water in Ahmadi’s car for bomb supplies.
Ahmadi was killed in the Kabul drone strike on August 29 along with three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; his cousin Naser, 30; three of his brother Romal’s children, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.
US Air Force Veteran Ian Fritz
PICTURED: The 10 victims mistakenly killed by a US drone strike which was targeting ISIS-K in Afghanistan
US intelligence officials ordered a drone strike at the residence of Afghan aid worker Zemari Ahmadi as they mistook his car for that belonging to an ISIS-K terrorist
Neighbors came to the scene that left Zemari and the nine other victims dead on August 29
‘The strike was a tragic mistake,’ Head of US Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley had previously called it a ‘righteous strike.’
The Pentagon is currently conducting a review of the botched strike to determine if the US needs to alter its drone use policy for future missions.
‘I’d like to believe that America will conduct fewer strikes like this in the future. But the truth is, I have reasonable certainty that the review, like the ones before it, won’t change a thing,’ Fritz wrote.
While Fritz sympathizes with intelligence officers who made the call on that chaotic day in August, he demanded the Air Force step up it efforts to make sure no innocent civilians become victims.
‘Yes, the stakes were high—higher than they’ve been in a long time. But is firing a Hellfire—a 100-pound missile with a 20-pound warhead, a missile that melts legs to walls—into a city ever going to be worth it when we don’t truly know who’s on the receiving end of it?
Drone footage showed the fireball from the courtyard, which the Pentagon believed was proof of explosives in the car. They now say that a nearby propane tank was likely ignited by the missile
Fritz said the US classified military-age male targets as any male deemed a threat, but said that such a definition was not reasonable and that drone strikes in Afghanistan did not need approval from the president.
He added that during the Obama administration that he served under, which began normalizing the use of drone strikes, ‘any male who died in a strike was counted as a combatant’ regardless of age or affiliation.
‘When you hunt humans for the U.S. military… there is no concern about minimizing the suffering of legitimate targets, and there is no need for a clean kill,’ he wrote.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization, reported that the US has conducted at least 13,072 drone strikes in Afghanistan from January 2015 to March 2020.
The bureau estimates that between 4,000 to 10,000 people have been killed in the strikes, with at least 66 children killed among the estimated 300 civilian victims.
Some of the families of the victims from the August 29 drone strike have demanded compensation from the US, while others fully condemned the nation and said they would not accept anything from America.
Ahmadi’s 24-year-old stepson Samim Ahmadi told The Washington Post that ‘the situation in Afghanistan is not good’. He added: ‘Whether in America or another country, we want peace and comfort for our remaining years.
‘Everyone makes mistakes. The Americans cannot bring back our loved ones, but they can take us out of here.’
Ahmadi’s brother Emal (pictured), 32, said: ‘The US government must punish those who launched the drone strike
Ahmadi’s brother Emal, 32, who was just feet away from the remains of the car after the blast, said: ‘We didn’t have any money to bury our relatives. We had to borrow funds.’
And while he said he is ‘happy’ the Pentagon has acknowledged the miscalculations that led to his brother’s death, ‘forgiveness’ is too strong a word, as reported by The Post.
The Ahmadis also said the Americans responsible for the tragic mistake – the commander who oversaw the strike, the drone operator or anyone else who had visuals on the ground – need to be taken to court.
Emal said: ‘The US government must punish those who launched the drone strike. They knew and saw there were children on the ground. Can anyone bring them back?’
Timeline leading up to the August 29 drone strike
8:52am: Surveillance initiated as Ahmadi picks up a laptop from the home of his non-profit’s director, which the Pentagon believes is an ISIS-K compound
9.05am: Ahmadi picks up a second co-worker to carpool to work
9.35am: Ahmadi and two co-workers arrive at the offices of US-based aid group Nutrition and Education International.
11.22am: The Corolla leaves the office.
12.11pm: Ahmadi arrives at the 10th District Police station, which is controlled by the Taliban, to request permission to distribute food to displaced Afghans in a park.
1.27pm: They leave at the police station and return to the office.
3.47pm: Back at the office at point items are loaded into the trunk of the Corolla, which are now known to be water jugs. Ahmadi departs the office with three co-workers to commute home.
4.11pm: The Corolla drops off one of Ahmadi’s coworkers.
4.39pm: Ahmadi drops off his third and final co-worker before heading home
4.51pm: Ahmadi arrives home and begins backing into his gated courtyard.
4.53pm: A Hellfire missile kills him and nine family members, including seven children.