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How to create a terrorist

How to create a terrorist

Mq-9 Reaper Drone – the weapon that was used to carry out the tragic attack

On August 29th, just two days before the Biden administration’s deadline to complete America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, an unnamed official from the newly established “Over-the-Horizon Strike Cell” authorized a strike from an MQ-9 Reaper drone that killed ten Afghan civilians, including seven children. 

This is a tragedy. Individual Americans, myself included, should be ashamed that our government carried out this sort of indiscriminate violence. The military officials who authorized the strike should be held accountable both publicly and privately. 

As opposed to responding with the sort of transparency that one might expect from a nation that aspires to be a beacon of liberal democracy and good governance for the world, American military officials and their representatives to the media continued to perpetuate lies and misinformation about the strike’s consequences for weeks before conceding that the attack that they authorized resulted in the murder of children and aid workers. Not only are these sorts of misinformation campaigns corrosive to the trust that individual Americans have in their government, but these murders and lies destroy American credibility around the world. 

Despite this series of lies and indiscriminate violence, General Milley, who not long ago referred to the strike as “righteous”, would now like to recognize that his actions were a “mistake” and offer his “sincere apology” to the surviving family of the children killed  in the operation he authorized. Other officials in the United States military have offered similar apologies for the role that they played in this murder of children and aid workers. 

At this point, it is important to note that since the launch of the war in Afghanistan some 900 civilians have been killed by American drone strikes, and some 45,000 Afghan civilians have been killed as a consequence of other elements of America’s military operation in their country. This is hardly America’s first apology for the killing of civilians in the Middle East. Well over 350,000 civilians have been killed as a consequence of the generalized violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen over the last twenty years and four presidential administrations. 

Despite this horrific loss of life, in the days following the attack much has been written questioning America’s capacity to continue to strike military targets in Afghanistan without boots on the ground. This is the wrong question- instead, we should be asking if America’s plan to sustain military efforts in Afghanistan are precise enough to avoid murdering civilians and children. 

In order to address the threat of terrorisim over the long term, it is important that we understand what motivates terrorisim. Here, we can look at a two pronged study conducted by James Payne, who has taught at Yale, John Hopkins, and other well respected institutions. 

First, Panye goes through the journals and public statements of Osama Bin Laden, a man whose ideology undeniably shaped modern terrorisim, in order to develop a better understanding of what incentivises Al-Qaeda and other similar groups. Over 70% of these statements were classified as “Criticism of American aggression, oppression, and exploitation of Muslim lands and peoples”. On the other hand, only 1% of bin Laden’s recorded remarks are “criticisms of American society and culture”, an even smaller portion advocates “Spreading Islam to the West”. 

On the basis of these findings, Payne argues that the approach of “taking the fight to the terrorists” that the United States has employed since 2001 is, “… a mistake.  (As) The size of terrorist ranks are not fixed. Their numbers are a function of the perception of American intrusion.” The murder of children and aid workers, then, serves as “ideal” recruting material for groups like ISIS-K that would work to further destabilize Afghanistan and work against other American interests.

The fact that these attacks were carried out by unmanned aircraft while the United States was in the process of a nominal withdrawal from Afghanistan likely contributes to the notion that the United States is unwilling to apply proper restraint to its actions and will continue its pattern of recklessly striking out against targets, military and otherwise, in Afghanistan and beyond.

In order for the United States to eliminate the threat of terrorisim, much less help the people living in terror afflicted nations, American military strikes simply cannot continue to kill civilians- this recklessness is exactly the sort of behavior that creates terrorosim. 

If the United States wants to be given the benefit of the doubt by non-aligned people in the region, we need to prove that we are the “good guys”. When the “good guys” fight wars, they typically don’t kill kids- America’s military has failed in that, and as a consequence local populations are faced with a difficult question when evaluating America’s actions in the region. To quote Anissa Ahmadi, the wife and mother of some of those killed by the drone strike, “America used us to defend itself, and now they’ve destroyed Afghanistan, whoever dropped this bomb on our family, may God punish you.” 

Here, we are made to grapple with the sad reality that even the best possible intentions do not guarantee good outcomes. 

There is little reason to doubt the power and reach of America’s military might.  The question is not, “ is the US military the most capable in the world?”, the question is, “are our leaders capable of using that military might without inspiring future generations of anti-American terrorism?”.  It clearly remains to be seen whether or not American political and military officials are capable of wielding that power responsibly.   A drone strike that kills innocent civilians would suggest our military tools are, unfortunately, far superior to our ability to decide when and where to use those tools constructively. 

With great power comes great responsibility.   The recent drone strike in Afghanistan did not live up to that responsibility.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association