General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, conceded as a “mistake” the drone strike by the American forces in Kabul last month that killed 10 civilians.
In light of the findings of a probe into the August 29 strike, General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, also said it was “unlikely that the vehicle and those who died in the drone strike were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces”.
For days after the strike, Pentagon officials had asserted that it had been conducted correctly, even as reports of civilian casualties emerged.
Now, Gen McKenzie has apologised for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims.
“It was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apology. As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome,” he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
BREAKING: U.S. officially admits that its drone strike in Afghanistan on August 29 killed 10 innocent civilians (including 7 children), not ISIS Khorasan terrorists as earlier claimed: pic.twitter.com/ErCPpRp7p7
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) September 17, 2021
He said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
However, the strike must be considered in the context of the on-ground situation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport following the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 soldiers, sailors, and Marines and more than 100 civilians. Also, a substantial body of intelligence had indicated the imminence of another attack, he said.
Gen McKenzie said that having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the probe and supporting analysis, he is convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that drone strike.
“Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to US forces. I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed. This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport,” he said.
Prior to the strike, US intelligence had indicated a likelihood that a white Toyota Corolla would be used in an attack against US forces, Gen McKenzie said. On the morning of Aug. 29, such a vehicle was detected at a compound in Kabul that US intelligence in the preceding 48 hours had determined was used by the Islamic State group to plan and facilitate attacks. The vehicle was tracked by US drone aircraft from that compound to numerous other locations in the city before the decision was made to attack it at a point just a couple of miles from Kabul airport, Gen McKenzie said.
“Clearly our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota Corolla,” he said.
“While the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect,” he said.
“I’m here today to set the record straight and acknowledge our mistakes. I will end my remarks with the same note of sincere and profound condolences to the family and friends of those who died in this tragic strike,” Gen McKenzie said.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the drone strike had killed a Mr. Ahmadi who worked for a non-profit called Nutrition and Education International.
“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,” Austin said in the statement.
“We apologize, and we will endeavour to learn from this horrible mistake.”
While it is rare for senior Pentagon officials, including the defense secretary, to apologize personally for civilians killed in military strikes, the US military does publish reports on civilians killed in operations around the world.
Reports had emerged almost immediately that the drone strike in a neighborhood west of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport had killed civilians including children. Video from the scene showed the wreckage of a car strewn around the courtyard of a building. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, Zabihullah Mujahid, said at the time that the attack killed seven people and that the Taliban was investigating.