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The Chairman's Afghan Problem

All Zemari Ahmadi had to do was drive a white Corolla.

(Photo credit should read Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)

You don’t hear much about Mark Milley these days, mere months after the girthy Joint Chiefs chairman hogged the media spotlight as a deep state woke warrior by day and anti-Trump resistance hero cum Defender of the Constitution™ by night.

That may mean Ron Klain is an avid reader of The American Conservative, and took preemptive action against a potential threat come 2024. Mark Milley was positioning himself for something post-military career, and it is well within the realm of possibility that something meant a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. An enforcer for the Methuselan president or a self-appointed successor like Kamala Harris may well have shunted Milley back onto the sidelines. Maybe it was Pete Buttigieg.


Or maybe (and this is likely wishful thinking) Mark Milley’s fade back to obscurity is a sign that those responsible for killing innocent kids, even in the Biden-era American empire, can still receive—well, if not justice, at least a bit of a sentence in time-out.

On Sunday, August 29, 2021, U.S. forces used an MQ-9 Reaper drone to fire a Hellfire missile at a Toyota Corolla soon after it entered the open-air garage of a small private residence in Kabul. The ensuing blaze killed three adults and seven children, the youngest only two years old. One of the juvenile victims was so badly mutilated that neighbors told Al Jazeera they “could only find his legs.”

In the following hours, days, and weeks, U.S. officials did everything they could to triage the P.R. damage of the killings.

U.S. Central Command issued a statement the same day of the strike, insisting that it had “conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat.” CENTCOM purported to be “confident we successfully hit the target,” and admitted it was “assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties” while claiming to have “no indications at this time.”

In a joint press conference held with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin three days later, General Milley continued to assert with absolute certainty that “an ISIS facilitator” was eliminated by the strike. He explicitly characterized the strike as “righteous.” As to the increasingly credible allegations that numerous civilians had been killed in the U.S. strike, Milley said only, “We'll try to sort through all of that.”


Now, a redacted portion of an internal military investigative report obtained by the New York Times through a FOIA lawsuit sheds light on what actually happened that August Sunday, and how the blood of seven defenseless children wound up on American hands.

The evidence taken as sufficient to justify the lethal strike in Kabul is nothing short of astonishing.

Zemari Ahmadi, an engineer who worked for a U.S.-based aid organization called Nutrition and Education International, drove a white Toyota Corolla. Intelligence suggested that a white Toyota Corolla might be involved in an impending ISIS-K terrorist plot. (The Toyota Corolla has been the most popular auto model in Afghanistan for two and a half decades.)

If that wasn’t enough, U.S. intelligence personnel witnessed Ahmadi placing a parcel in the car, which he handled so carefully that it could only have been a bomb. (It was his boss’s laptop.)

What’s more, multiple men were observed getting in and out of Ahmadi’s Corolla at various locations. (These were colleagues who needed rides to work, a Times investigation found.)

The coup de grâce: After the drone-launched missile strike that blew up Ahmadi’s car, U.S. officials claimed that the size and force of the resulting blasts meant he must have been carrying explosives. If they weren’t sure before they killed all those people, the fact that they killed all those people with such force was all the evidence they needed in retrospect.

This line was repeated over and over by U.S. officials in the days following the killings, including by General Milley himself and by official CENTCOM statements. (Further investigation suggested the secondary explosion was set off by a simple gas or propane tank.)

That’s really it. Zemari Ahmadi drove the same model car as 90 percent—90 percent—of his fellow Afghanis, and he used that car to transport people and objects while a terrorist group also operated in the same general vicinity. No further evidence was needed to justify the fiery deaths of ten civilians.

Even as the failure became clear, U.S. officials refused to own up to it. It was not until relentless reporting forced some kind of admission that military leaders admitted first that they had accidentally killed a whole family of civilians in the process of taking out an ISIS terrorist, and then that they may not have actually gotten the terrorist after all, and finally that there never was a terrorist in the picture to begin with.

Even then, no punitive action was taken—no accountability for any of the commanders whose poor judgment and plain stupidity caused ten indefensible deaths.

Milley continues to earn a general’s salary of just over $200,000 per year. Austin still rakes in the secretary’s pay of just over $220,000. And both still oversee a globe-spanning military apparatus of almost unfathomable power—one whose continued operation by incompetent midwits may well destroy more than one innocent family at any given moment.


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