On February 21, 2010, 25 Afghan civilians, including four women and a child, were killed when Boeing helicopters fired Hellfire missiles made by Lockheed Martin on a convoy of SUVs traveling in the Uruzgan province in the center of Afghanistan on their way to Kabul.
The helicopter pilots received intelligence from drone operators based at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and were assisted by a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone that flew in the sky next to them.
The Pentagon ended up paying $179,000 in total to the victims’ families—about half the cost that Lockheed Martin was paid to make the one Hellfire missile that caused the deaths.
Some of the victims were shopkeepers traveling to get supplies; others were students traveling to start a new semester; and stil others were part of a family that had taken a trip to visit relatives. Many were Hazaras, Shia Muslims averse to the Taliban, who are Pashtun.
An Army investigation determined that a “top gun mentality” among the drone crews had resulted in the catastrophe along with a “desire to go kinetic,” meaning to attack the enemy without taking proper precautions.
Another investigation determined that drone operators spoke of Afghans in derogatory terms and that the decision to attack the civilian SUV convoy was based on “prejudice and ignorance” along with a “presumption of evil intent” that was imaginary.
The Uruzgan massacre was featured in a short documentary produced by Brad Wolf, a former prosecutor from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as an exhibit in a war crimes tribunal charging top weapons manufacturers (aka “merchants of death”) with war crimes for producing weapons that have been used to kill civilians in illegal wars undertaken in violation of the Geneva Convention and UN Charter.
The model for the tribunal is the Nuremberg trials after World War II, which tried and convicted executives of German war industries, notably I.G. Farben, Krupp and Flick, for war crimes.
The first two sessions of the tribunal focused on U.S. war crimes in Gaza, Syria and Somalia, while other sessions focused on the illegality of the war in Afghanistan and featured interviews with a dissident former Army commander, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, and investigative journalist John Pilger.
The Uruzgan massacre was the subject of National Bird, a 2016 documentary which exposed the perversity of the U.S. drone program.
Wolf interviewed one of the drone pilots featured in National Bird, Brandon Bryant, who stated that the drone operators he worked with were fixated entirely with increasing killing efficiency and had little concern about civilian casualties.
None of the drone operators ever reported flaws in the Raytheon infra-red imaging system to their superiors, which did not allow them to clearly make out whom they were targeting.
Bryant likened the images to shadow puppets, using the analogy of Plato’s allegory of seeing shadows on the wall, implying that what the drone operator sees is in the eye of the beholder.
These comments point to the gross criminality of the drone war in that pilots giving assassination orders cannot precisely identify whom they are targeting—in strikes carried out without judicial review.
The weapons makers and top Army and government officials ordering the strikes should be held accountable for egregious violations of international law that have resulted in the deaths of countless civilians in Afghanistan and many other countries.
Humanitarian Who Delivered Food Aid Testifies About More War Crimes
Doug Hostetter is a Mennonite peace activist interviewed by Wolf as part of the Merchants of Death tribunal who traveled to Afghanistan in the midst of the U.S.-NATO bombing in October 2001 to deliver food to Afghans in internally displaced person camps in Takar and Kunduz provinces.
Hostetter said that while he was there he could see daily bombings of Taliban controlled villages by Boeing B-52 planes that caused the ground to shake even several kilometers away.
The villages that were being bombed had no military targets. Hostetter said they were reminiscent of the 12th Century in that there were no buildings over a story high and almost no electricity or paved roads.
The people that Hostetter talked to were confused as to why the U.S. was bombing them. They said that they had thought the U.S. was their friend since they had opposed the Russians when they occupied their country in the 1980s.
The pretext for the bombing was dubious since no Afghans were on the alleged airplanes that took down the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11.
If the U.S. took Al Qaeda to an international court, they would have been supported by Russia, China and likely also the Taliban government, which was not behind the 9/11 attacks.
Hostetter said he got the impression that most of the bombs that the U.S. dropped were dumb bombs rather than smart bombs so had low levels of precision and that the purpose of the bombing was to make a dramatic show of American power.
The people whom Hostetter was providing food aid to had been forced from their homes as a result of the bombing, which was senseless in that it made the U.S. many enemies while killing scores of civilians.
Hostetter said that the U.S. made some effort to win Afghan hearts and minds by providing $79 food packets, though much of the food proved to be inedible.
His own group’s efforts were more successful in helping to feed Afghans whom he enjoyed interacting with.
At the end of the interview, Hostetter pulled out fragments of a guava bomb from Vietnam where he was a relief worker in the late 1960s and said that guava bombs were still exploding and killing people today, nearly fifty years after the Vietnam War ended.
The same kinds of bombs and explosives manufactured by the death merchants in Vietnam were used widely in Afghanistan–with similar deadly consequences.
The trillions of dollars of taxpayer money that went into the manufacture of these deadly weapons should be regarded as money that was stolen from the American people, according to Hostetter. The government should have been investing all these years in health care, education and housing instead of weapons that destroyed the lives of people around the world.
Going Out With Yet Another Killing Spree
A final segment of the Merchants of Death tribunal on Afghanistan showed how the U.S. left Afghanistan the way it came in: killing Afghan civilians. Between 2017 and 2020, U.S., NATO and Afghan airstrikes killed an estimated 1,134 civilians per year, double the annual average of the previous decade, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.
On August 29, 2021, just before the final U.S. withdrawal, a General Atomics Reaper drone fired Lockheed Martin hellfire missiles into the car of aide worker Zemari Ahmadi near the center of Kabul, killing him and nine other members of his family, including seven children.
A Pentagon report determined that there had been a lack of clear images of the people targeted in the strike by the Raytheon drone camera because trees and courtyard overhang limited the visibility angles, though the drone operators decided to launch the strike anyways.
Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center of Naval Analysis, found that drones strikes were ten times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets. Another study by The Intercept, based on classified government records leaked by whistleblower Daniel Hale, determined that only one person in ten in Afghanistan killed in drone attacks was the person actually targeted.
On September 18, 2017, 30 Afghan farmers who made pine nuts were killed by a General Atomics drone and Lockheed Martin hellfire missile while resting after a day’s work.
A surge in air attacks during this period was overseen by General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who after his retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was appointed to Lockheed Martin’s Board of Directors.
As Commandant of the Marine Corps, Dunford had approved Lockheed’s ability to maintain full production of F-35 fighter jets in spite of the jets’ notoriously poor performance.
According to Wolf, Dunford was an embodiment of the “revolving door” system under which the U.S. government had been taken over by corporate war profiteers that valued profit over people and dividends over the dignity of other human beings—in Afghanistan, as elsewhere.
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.