Last September I noted that ISAF probably killed a member of the IMU, inflated his resume to make him “senior,” and also killed several civilians. In the absence of other evidence, I reluctantly concluded that ISAF’s description of him as an IMU figure was probably right, since there was no other information to suggest he might not be.
Well, last night Frontline ran a segment about this raid, and they raised serious questions about the incident. It is based, in part, on an extensive report by AAN’s Kate Clark about the raid. Her conclusion—that JSOC operators had confused a legitimate IMU target with an innocent local man—is very strongly argued.
This investigation has demonstrated the danger of relying on signals intelligence and social network analysis, particularly when it is used as a basis for targeted killings, without cross‐checking and in the virtual absence of human intelligence and, indeed in this case, without even the ordinary common knowledge to be had from watching election coverage on television. The findings of this investigation indicate that the most basic enquiries were not made about a target the military had been tracking for months. This suggests grave flaws in intelligence collection and evaluation. The magnitude of these omissions may rise to the level of a violation of the precautionary principle, one of the basic principles of the laws of war aimed at protecting civilians during conflict.
It’s not airtight, but this is very damning of ISAF intelligence handling (a topic I’ve visited countless times, for example during the Shindand bombing incident in 2008, or the Kunduz strike the following year). I’ve also complained that who we trust for news on this stuff depends to a great degree on our politics, which probably means that this report won’t make much headway on the neoconservative OMGCOINKILL side of things. Even so, it’s good to have this information out there—we should all be asking very hard questions about how and when ISAF chooses to summarily execute people.