Karzai to ban Afghans from using NATO airstrikes; expected decree highlights drone deficiencies

On Friday, in a written response to questions submitted by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director nominee John Brennan said that the number of civilian casualties caused by drone should be made public, but claimed that they are “rare instances.”

Setting aside the fact that, as Reuters pointed out it, the government “assumes ‘military-aged’ males in the proximity of a drone strike are combatants unless it finds out otherwise,” a development in Afghanistan today cast doubt on Brennan’s claim that civilian casualties arising from targeted assassinations are infrequent.

President Hamid Karzai said that he is planning on issuing a command that will forbid Afghan security forces from appealing for NATO air support in residential areas.

According to the Guardian, Karzai, addressing the National Military Academy in Kabul, said:
“Tomorrow, I will issue an decree stating that under no conditions can Afghan forces request foreign air strikes on Afghan homes or Afghan villages during operations.”

The expected decree, assuming Karzai issues it, will happen just days after an airstrike near the frontier with Pakistan caused the deaths of ten Afghan civilians:

Karzai said he had been told that the air strike was requested by the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). “If this is true, it is very regrettable and it is very shameful. How could they ask foreigners to send planes and bomb our own houses?”

Why does this decree — which pertains to any sort of airstrike — give Americans an insight into the CIA’s drone-reliant targeted assassinations program? It highlights the peril of launching sorties in asymmetrical warfare. Population centers are frequently targeted. And whether they are launched by UAV, aircraft, submarine, or warship — the targeted killing program doesn’t rely solely on drones — no matter how precise the strikes themselves are, they are only as good as the intelligence that justifies them. In the latest instance, faulty intelligence led to the deaths of ten Afghans.

This unpleasant truth about intelligence and other factors (distrust of self-interested turf war obsessed national security state organs) have led to general skepticism about Brennan’s claims concerning civilian casualties and targeted killings. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, these strikes have led to the fatalities of between 473-893 Pakistani civilians, 72-178 Yemeni civilians, and 11-57 Somali civilians.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.