On May 15, the Department of Defense released footage of a U.S. drone conducting an April 12 airstrike against an enemy vehicle in Afghanistan. The DOD said that the airstrike was conducted by a U.S. Predator drone. However, the U.S. Air Force announced in February that it would no longer use the Predator after March 9, and that only contractors would continue operating them in the Middle East through December. Yet military contractors are supposed to operate drones solely for surveillance and reconnaissance; they are not supposed to conduct attacks. So who actually conducted the April 12 airstrike? Was it the U.S. armed forces, another government agency, or contractors? The answer to this question could be the start of major news, or the end of a nonstory.
DVIDS published the video of the April 12 airstrike. The metadata published with it said that Resolute Support Headquarters released the video. Resolute Support “is a NATO-led, non-combat mission” in Afghanistan. The caption for the video reads as follows (“ANDSF” stands for “Afghanistan national defense and security forces):
A U.S. Predator strikes a stolen ANDSF HUMMWV [sic] Warduj District, Badakhshan Province taken on April 12, 2018. The U.S. remains partnered with the ANDSF on its fights against the Taliban.
The DOD provided no further information on the DVIDS page to verify if the Taliban was responsible for stealing the ANDSF vehicle, or if other enemy forces stole it.
Regardless, the statement that a U.S. Predator conducted the airstrike is quite interesting.
The Predator drone (a drone is more formally known as an unmanned aerial vehicle, or unmanned aerial system) became famous after Sep. 11, 2001. To some people, the word “Predator” probably became synonymous with the word “drone.”
The U.S. Air Force used it for a long time but announced earlier this year that it was retiring it. The Air Force Times reported on Feb. 16 that “The Air Force will officially retire its . . . MQ-1 Predator on March 9” and that “while the active duty Air Force and Air National Guard will stop flying the MQ-1 after March 9, contractor flights in the Middle East will continue through December.”
So if the Air Force is no longer flying Predators, how could a Predator conduct an airstrike in Afghanistan? There are several possible answers to this question.
The first possible answer is that a contractor was operating the drone and conducted the airstrike. This would be major news if this actually happened because contractors are not supposed to conduct such attacks. However, this is the least likely answer.
The second possible answer is that the U.S. Air Force is still operating Predators in Afghanistan. After all, while the article in The Air Force Times said that “contractor flights in the Middle East will continue through December,” Afghanistan is generally not considered to be part of the Middle East. And while the same article said that the Air Force was retiring the Predators entirely after March 9, it’s possible that that date was moved back for operational reasons. Still, this is unlikely.
The third possible answer is that another U.S. government entity was operating the Predator. But this is unlikely as well.
The fourth and most likely answer is that the DOD simply misidentified what aerial system (drone) it actually used in the airstrike. Like I said, the word “Predator” has become so synonymous with “drone” that even professionals can mistake the terminology. On top of this, the drone that likely was responsible for the airstrike (a Reaper) is actually identified by the manufacturer as the “Predator B” on its website.
So if the fourth answer is the most likely one (which would make all this a nonstory), why did I even bother writing this post? There are two reasons why.
First, I dislike clickbait stories that intentionally hide what the likely (or even possible) truth is simply because the people publishing them want to stir up controversy and generate clicks. So hopefully I’ve demonstrated what I’d like to see in news: more searching for the truth and less sensationalism (unless sensationalism is warranted).
Secondly, even if the DOD mistakenly identified the drone that conducted the airstrike as a Predator, the video remains interesting to watch. Not only does it show current imagery from modern warfare, but the footage provides a succinct and striking commentary on how the war in Afghanistan is going.
In short, it isn’t a very good sign when the U.S. provides billions of dollars in equipment and vehicles to the Afghans only to have to blow them up later because enemy forces steal them.
Note: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.