The intricacies of Afghanistan’s mosaic of tribes, sub-tribes and clans, and its ethnic and sectarian fault lines have befuddled the American enterprise there since 2001. Although U.S. intelligence officials and military specialists have tried to create maps of the power structure in rural areas – including who owes allegiance to the Taliban and who doesn’t – for the most part it’s been a decade-long fool’s errand, since, among other things, those allegiances often change without notice.
That’s why the August 18 drone attack in Kunar province, which killed dozens of Afghans, is so disturbing.
So far, there appears to be no independent investigation of the attack, outside of the media, either by the United Nations or by human rights groups, and there’s plenty of disagreement about what happened. But all accounts agree that somewhere between two dozen and over fifty people died in a lethal drone strike conducted in a remote area of Chapah Darah district. Perhaps no one has looked into the truth of what occurred that day because the region is isolated and, like much of rural Afghanistan, not under government control.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
What’s known about the events that day goes as follows: A quarrel, apparently between families or clans erupted in a small village in the Chapah Darah district in Kunar, which sits hard against the Afghan-Pakistan border east of the capital, Kabul. Because the government has little or no authority there, tribal elders – who may or may not be loyal to the Taliban – summoned Taliban officials to the scene. “According to locals and the police chief of the Chapah Darah district,” the New York Times reports, “the insurgents had gathered after a quarrel between two families resulted in a death. The victim’s relatives surrounded those they said were responsible for the death and called in the Taliban to administer justice.”At least two dozen Taliban gathered, presumably surrounded by the alleged perpetrators, aggrieved, and tribal observers, to carry out an execution of one or more of those involved. At some point during the affair, U.S.-directed drones bombed the gathering. According to various accounts, as many as 50 people died.
The official statement by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which claimed that the Taliban commander in Kunar and his deputy were among those killed, is antiseptic in its report: