The Ravaged Face of America’s Drone War in Afghanistan
Last year, four-year-old Aisha Rashid was stripped of everything a child can lose. As reported by other outlets, on September 7, 2013, in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, a U.S. drone hit the pick-up truck carrying the young girl’s family. Fourteen passengers, mostly women and children, were killed. Only Aisha survived – with a ragged face.
On that dreadful day, the young Afghan girl lost a hand, her nose, and eyes. She also lost enormous amounts of blood, as she bled profusely from her lower body. After Aisha’s relatives heard of the attack, they drove to the location in the hopes of finding survivors. Finding the young girl with her devastated body and face, they took her to a nearby hospital in Asadabad, but there was no one who could do much for her ravaged little body.
After visiting but failing to receive necessary treatment at a hospital in Jalalabad, Aisha was eventually taken by helicopter to Kabul. There, the girl received visits from various prominent officials, including Hamid Karzai. In an interview with the Washington Post, the Afghan president described how he broke down in tears in the presence of the faceless girl: “That day I wished her death and thought that it would have been better if she had been buried with her family,” Karzai said.
Aisha is no longer in Afghanistan. While she was in the Kabul hospital, she suddenly disappeared. Her family members did not initially know where she had been taken. After the kidnapping and Washington Post interview, in which Karzai mentioned Aisha would go to the United States for medical treatment, the Afghan president arranged a phone call between the child and her remaining family members. It was only then that the family realized Aisha had been taken to the United States. During the call, Aisha asked after her little brother, not knowing he had been killed by the strike.
As reported in Expressen, according to her family, they had not agreed to allow Aisha to receive treatment in the United States. They believe the girl was deliberately taken away from Afghanistan. After all the media attention on the Kunar attack, there was a strong chance the girl without a face would become a symbol against the illegal U.S. drone war, not only in Afghanistan but in other regional countries, like Pakistan and Yemen.
Since the attack, Aisha’s family has received financial compensation from the U.S. government for the fourteen relatives killed in the drone strike. For each victim, the family received $2,000 USD. They have little desire for the blood money, though, wanting instead for the young Aisha to be returned to them.
After the drone attack, before the media began investigating the event, NATO announced that only militant Taliban fighters had been killed in Kunar. NATO officials pretended to know nothing about Aisha and her family, although it is hard to believe they were truly unaware.
NATO’s feigned ignorance about the Kunar attack is nothing new, but rather part of its daily policy in the country. “Civilian casualties in remote areas of Afghanistan are often designated as Taliban fighters by the occupiers. Often the matter is soon forgotten if no one pursues it,” says Waheed Mozhdah, an Afghan political analyst.
Veteran U.S. journalist Jeremy Scahill has also documented this chilling practice. In his book, Dirty Wars, Scahill recounts the cover up that followed the massacre of innocent civilians by U.S. soldiers in the province of Paktia; like Kunar, Paktia is in eastern Afghanistan. It was only after journalists reported on the incident that NATO admitted a massacre of civilians had taken place. The Kunar attack played out in a similar fashion, with NATO admitting to the civilian casualties only after sustained media attention.
The fate of Aisha is sad not only for the tragic nature of her situation, but also because her circumstances are not uncommon. Children like Aisha can be found in all areas where the United States’ killer drone program is run. These are children whose fate you rarely read about in the news. Mainstream media outlets do not print their distorted and torn faces on their front pages, while well-known news channels are not interested in producing TV documentaries about their stories. It is little surprise, then, that most people do not know about the Aishas of the world.
If this were not the case, many would ask themselves how a man who enjoys posing with his family in front of the world’s cameras can sign kill orders, which target innocent civilians every week. That this same U.S. president received a Nobel Peace Prize makes this reality even more macabre. “I guess I’m good at killing,” Obama once said on his drone policy.
But, one wonders what President Obama would say to Aisha …. if he was ever face to face with her.