The Morning Dispatch: U.S. Apologizes for Strike that Killed Afghan Civilians

Plus: A snap election in Canada and a dud rally in support of those arrested for taking part in the January 6 Capitol riot.

Happy Monday! Andy Dalton, meet Wally Pipp

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday an internal Pentagon investigation found that the United States’ supposed retaliatory drone strike in Kabul last month was a “horrible mistake,” one that killed up to 10 innocent people—including seven children—and no ISIS-K members.

  • An external Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted on Friday to endorse COVID-19 vaccine booster shots only for Americans over the age of 65 or who are otherwise at high risk of severe disease. The recommendation is nonbinding—the FDA and CDC will make a final decision in the coming days—but the vote served as a rebuke of the Biden administration’s plan to offer booster shots to most Americans eight months after their second dose.

  • The Department of Homeland Security said over the weekend that it intends to “accelerate the pace” of removal flights expelling thousands of Haitians who arrived at the United States’ southern border last week. More than 12,000 would-be migrants have arrived in Del Rio, Texas, in recent days, overwhelming U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to process them.

  • French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced Friday he was—at President Emmanuel Macron’s request—recalling the country’s ambassadors to both the United States and Australia in retaliation for the countries’ nuclear submarine agreement, which Le Drian decried as “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”

  • Early reports out of Moscow show President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party will retain its majority in the lower house of Parliament despite its projected vote share falling nearly 10 percentage points from 2016. The election was marred by allegations of fraud, and both Apple and Google removed an app promoting Putin’s opposition from their respective app stores last week after threats from Russian authorities.

  • Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled over the weekend it would be inappropriate for Senate Democrats to try to extend legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants through the budget reconciliation process, arguing it is not primarily a budget matter.

  • A State Department spokesman said Saturday that 28 more U.S. citizens—and seven lawful permanent residents—departed Kabul on Friday aboard a Qatar Airways charter flight.

U.S. Military Apologizes for Killing Civilians

On August 29—just days after ISIS-K militants killed 13 American troops and dozens of Afghans in Kabul—the U.S. military said it had headed off a second attack.

“U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamad Karzai International airport,” a Central Command spokesman said. “We are confident we successfully hit the target.”

A few hours later, a second statement was issued. “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” it read. “We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport.”

Soon, those reports of civilian casualties rose to 10. But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley defended the strike during a September 1 press conference. “We know from a variety of other means that at least one of those people that were killed was an ISIS facilitator,” he said. “So were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are, we don’t know. … At this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike.”

On Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin formally admitted what the New York Times had reported a week earlier: The United States hadn’t struck an ISIS-K adherent, but an Afghan U.S. aid group worker named Zemari Ahmadi—and it had killed seven nearby children in the process.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” Austin said after being briefed on an internal investigation. “We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake.”

Trudeau Hopes to Avoid Self-Inflicted Wound

At polls across Canada today, voters will cast their ballots in the country’s 44th parliamentary election to determine whether sitting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party will maintain its minority government or if—in an ironic twist in a snap election Trudeau himself called nearly 40 days ago—the prime minister will be unseated by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Roughly 5.78 million ballots were cast during the country’s four days of early voting, and many more are expected on election day.

Understandably, debates over COVID-19—both its recent surge and what some Canadians have criticized as heavy-handed attempts to curb it—have been at the center of the campaign. Objections by some to mandatory vaccinations, restrictions, and lockdown measures have been key in motivating Trudeau’s opposition.

“We need to encourage as many Canadians as possible to get vaccinated,” O’Toole—among the only party leaders to not require his party’s candidates be fully vaccinated prior to campaigning—said a few days ago. “We’re not going to be doing that by wedging people, like Mr. Trudeau, always dividing people. Using even a health crisis for his own benefit.” As of last week, about 85 percent of Canadians 12 and over have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

‘Justice for J6’ Rally a Dud

Nine months after a sea of rioters stormed the Capitol, a handful of Trump supporters gathered in Union Square Saturday to protest the alleged plight of those who were arrested on January 6.

After everything that transpired on the day of the election certification, U.S. Capitol Police were not going to be caught flat-footed again. The fencing that surrounded the Capitol for much of the first half of the year was reinstalled last week, National Guard members were on standby to be deployed as necessary, and few—if any—lawmakers or staff members were around

But after all the hype and preparation, the event was—as domestic extremism researcher Jared Holt predicted in a piece we mentioned last week—more or less a nothingburger. Very few people showed up, and the day came and went relatively peacefully.

“Paranoia of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ surveillance has been one of the single most uniting factors in far-right extremist movements this year so far,” Holt wrote. The Proud Boys—key figures on January 6—messaged their followers ahead of Saturday’s event saying the group wouldn’t be showing up because it “sounds like bait.”

Former President Donald Trump echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Federalist Thursday. “On Saturday, that’s a setup,” he said. “If people don’t show up they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s a lack of spirit.’ And if people do show up they’ll be harassed.”

Worth Your Time

  • In a thoughtful piece for National Review, Yuval Levin argues it’s time for the conservative movement to devote the same energy it spent reshaping the federal judiciary to reforming Congress. “James Madison was not wrong to say that the legislative branch necessarily predominates in our republic,” he writes. “When Congress is dysfunctional, the larger system of which it is the foremost part falls into dysfunction too. Conservatives therefore need to respond to our distaste for Congress like we responded to our distaste for the judiciary—by recovering a proper understanding of the purpose of the institution, and then acting to bring it into line with that understanding. The Congress has the power to reassert itself. What it lacks is the will. And that means that the project of reassertion must begin by changing how Congress understands itself, and how our society understands it.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah was in rare form in his Friday G-File, aiming his fire first at the James Beard Awards—and “the refusal of institutions, and the people who run them, to stay in their lanes”—before turning to the hyperbolic reaction from MAGA supporters to former President George W. Bush’s speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. “If I write a ‘news’letter condemning cannibalistic pederasts and you reply, ‘How dare you insult 74 million Trump voters,’ I’m not the one calling Trump voters cannibalistic pederasts,” he writes. “But when a former president condemns ‘violent extremists’ and the response from Trumpy right-wingers is ‘How dare you?’ I have to ask: What the actual fornication are these people doing?”

  • In the second Uphill of the week (🔒), Harvest and Ryan dove into the latest efforts to raise the debt limit and examined how higher staff pay might—or might not—prevent some of the “brain drain” from Congress. “The amount of time Congress has left to avoid [a U.S. default] has shrunk,” they write, “and the political pressure to act is growing.”

  • Sarah and Steve were joined by political commentator S.E. Cupp on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast for a conversation about the first few months of the Biden administration, political extremism, and how social media is rewiring all of our brains.

  • “The transformation of white Evangelicalism into a primarily political movement is a cause for deep and profound concern,” David writes in his latest French Press. “It’s become a force that is helping fracture our nation and sicken its people, and its extreme elements have become instruments of cruelty and even violence.”

Let Us Know

It’s easy given what we now know to criticize the intelligence failure that led to the ill-conceived drone strike in Kabul.

In the moment itself, how confident would you have to be in the intelligence assessment of an impending strike for the benefits of stopping it to outweigh the risk of targeting innocent civilians?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).