Watching the chaotic scenes in Kabul airport this last August, it is difficult to make sense of the manner in which Washington pulled the plug on a two-decade Coalition effort leaving our allies non-plussed and our partners to the mercy of a vengeful enemy. Less than three weeks later, these images came again to mind during the testimony of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and two of his four-star generals before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nothing in that testimony, however, brought a sense of closure. Instead, repeated attempts at justification, and ultimately – a collective refusal to take responsibility – only rubbed salt in the wound.
As we wait for the investigations and inquiries to play out, however, I want to focus here on critical lessons from a single incident. It was the last offensive action taken by the United States in a 20-year war – a drone strike that failed to hit its target, killing instead several civilians
. The mistake was no isolated incident but part of a pattern that has implications not just for US counter-terrorism strategy but for US foreign policy going ahead. I discuss here what the problem is, why it matters, and how to fix it.