The Pentagon withdrew from its defense of a drone strike that killed several civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing that an internal review found only civilians were killed in the attack, not an extremist of the Islamic State as it was initially believed.
“The strike was a tragic mistake,” Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, told a Pentagon press conference.
For days after the August 29 strike, Pentagon officials claimed it was carried out correctly, despite the deaths of many civilians, including children.
News organizations then cast doubts on this version of events, noting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a long-time employee of a US aid organization and citing the lack of evidence to support the Pentagon’s claim that the vehicle contained explosives.
General McKenzie said the vehicle was struck “in the sincere belief” that it posed an imminent threat.
“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in this strike,” General McKenzie said.
“In addition, we now believe that it is unlikely that the vehicle and the deceased were associated with Isis-K or a direct threat to US forces,” he added, referring to the subsidiary. Afghan Islamic State group.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in a written statement, apologized for what he called a “horrible mistake”.
“We now know that there was no connection” between the driver of the vehicle and the Islamic State group, and that the driver’s activities that day were “completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat to which we thought we were facing, ”Austin said. noted.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters two days after the attack that it was a “fair” strike and that at least one of those killed was a ” ISIS facilitator for Afghanistan. affiliate, which killed 169 Afghan civilians and 13 US servicemen in an Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Kabul airport.
After General McKenzie’s remarks, General Milley expressed his regret.
“It is a horrible tragedy of war and it is heartbreaking,” General Milley told reporters traveling with him in Europe.
“We are committed to being completely transparent about this incident. “
“In a dynamic high threat environment, field commanders had the appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, but upon further analysis after the strike, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed. General Milley added.
Family accounts, documents from colleagues seen by the Associated Press, and the scene at the family home – where Zemerai Ahmadi’s car was hit by a Hellfire missile just as he pulled into the driveway – all painted a picture of a family who had worked for the Americans and were trying to get visas for the United States, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.
The family said when the 37-year-old, alone in his car, pulled up to the house, he honked his horn. His 11-year-old son ran out and Mr. Zemerai let the boy enter and drive the car into the driveway. The other children rushed to watch and the Hellfire missile cremated the car, killing seven children and an adult son and Mr. Zemerai’s nephew.
The airstrike was the latest in a US war that ended as it began in 2001 – with the Taliban ruling in Kabul.
The speed with which the Taliban invaded the country took the US government by surprise and forced it to send several thousand troops to Kabul airport for a hasty evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others.
The evacuation, which began on August 14, came under an almost constant threat of attack by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group.