U.S. Drone Strike Kills Afghan Nut Farmers

American forces reportedly carried out a drone strike in Afghanistan on September 18, killing approximately 32 civilians and wounding over 40, according to Afghan officials. The drone strike was targeting an Islamic State (ISIS) hideout in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. Reuters spoke to a Defense Department official, who claimed that the strike also killed ISIS fighters. No other source has yet confirmed this claim, but there is agreement among Afghan officials, news sources, and human rights organizations that the drone strike led to the deaths of many pine nut farmers who were working in the area.

The strike comes at a time of regional tension after planned U.S.-Taliban peace talks fell through. Afghani civilians have borne the bruntof the recent violence, as Afghan and American forces try to combat the growth of ISIS and the continued strength of the Taliban. Javed Mansur, a native of Jalalabad, conveyed his feelings to the Guardian, saying, “Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realize [they] will never win the war by killing innocent civilians.” Rahmatullah Sardar, a dry fruit trader also from Jalalabad, expressed similar frustration: “We cannot even protest on a large scale because [ISIS] or [the]
Taliban can target us easily, but the U.S. must admit they made a mistake.”

The U.S. is not the only culprit in the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Just a day after the drone strike on the pine nut farmers, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Zabul Province
that killed over 20 civilians. Three days after the Taliban strike, on September 22, Afghan forces struck a wedding party in Helmand Province, killing 40 civilians and wounding 13 more. The recent violence comes a month after the United Nations released a wide-ranging report about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, which revealed that the first quarter of 2019 marked the first time on record that the Afghan government and international forces killed more civilians than insurgent groups did. The government and its allies killed 717 civilians, while insurgent groups killed 531.

The recent civilian killings may increase pressure on the Trump administration to find a peaceful solution to this conflict. Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy organization, spoke out after the bombing by U.S. forces, saying that the incident showed a “shocking disregard for civilian life” and that civilians “bear the brunt” of the conflict between the two parties. Fatigue over years of war in the country and elsewhere in the region only compounds international attention regarding civilian casualties.

As American politicians debate the merits of staying in Afghanistan, the Trump administration may decide that making efforts to resume previously stalled peace talks with the Taliban could distract the media from other domestic and international issues.