The Washington Post reports: On small video screens inside their cockpits, the U.S. pilots spotted their target, an Islamic State checkpoint just south of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
In grainy black and white, they could see the enemy manning the barricades and a guard shack. As they prepared to launch their attack, the pilots noticed a potential complication: Two cars approached the checkpoint and stopped. The drivers appeared to be talking with Islamic State fighters.
Other cars moved through the checkpoint, but these two vehicles remained on the side of the road. Five minutes passed. Then 10. Nearly 40 minutes had gone by and the two vehicles still had not moved.
Running low on fuel and time, the pilots concluded that the people in the cars were allied with the militants and asked for permission to strike. After a brief discussion with their headquarters in Qatar, they got their reply: “You’re cleared to execute.”
This was one version of what war had become in the last years of the Obama administration: The pilots made two strafing runs over the checkpoint, their machine guns cutting through the two cars. Then they unleashed a 500-pound satellite-guided bomb that engulfed the area in dust, fire and deadly shrapnel.
As they returned to their base, the pilots offered an in-flight assessment of their mission: guard shack flattened, two vehicles destroyed and four enemy fighters dead. “There are no apparent civilian or other collateral concerns,” their report concluded.
The first sign that they had made a horrible mistake came in the form of an email, sent two weeks after the March 2015 airstrike, to an Iraqi citizen working at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
“I am Raja’a Zidan al-Ekabee . . . ” the email began. [Continue reading…]