Pentagon says drone strike in Afghanistan was a ‘tragic mistake’

Attack during chaotic withdrawal in August killed 10 civilians, including seven children

"I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” Gen Kenneth F McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said at a press conference. The August 29th drone strike in Kabul killed 10 civilians, including seven children. Video: NYT/Reuters

 

The Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that a US drone strike in Afghanistan on August 29th that officials said was necessary to prevent an attack on US troops was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.

The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the boot of a white Toyota saloon struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were most likely water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in a densely populated Kabul neighbourhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said. In short, the car posed no threat at all, investigators concluded.

Senior US Defense Department leaders acknowledged that the driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a US aid group, had nothing to do with the Islamic State group, as military officials had previously asserted. Mr Ahmadi’s only connection to the terrorist group appeared to be a fleeting and innocuous interaction with people in what the military believed was an Islamic State group safe house in Kabul, an initial link that led military analysts to make one mistaken judgment after another while tracking Mr Ahmadi’s movements in the Toyota for the following eight hours.

“I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” Gen Kenneth F McKenzie jnr, commander of US Central Command, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference on Friday. He said the United States was “exploring the possibility of ex gratia payments” to compensate the families of the victims.

The general said the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that the Islamic State group was about to attack Kabul’s airport, as the organisation had done three days earlier, killing more than 140 people, including 13 US service members.

The findings of the inquiry by Central Command mirrored the New York Times’ investigation, which also included interviews with more than a dozen of the driver’s co-workers and family members in Kabul. Senior Pentagon leaders, who were already preparing to brief politicians on the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, will likely face tough questioning on the last drone strike of that engagement.

“I expect the department to brief us immediately on the operation, focusing on a full accounting of the targeting processes and procedures which led to the determination to carry out such a strike,” Democratic representative for Arizona Ruben Gallego said in a statement.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.