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US foreign policy

‘Horrible mistake’: US admits Kabul drone strike killed civilians, not terrorists

“This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake,” McKenzie said.

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The US military Friday admitted that the Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul did not kill any terrorists and called the strike a “tragic mistake.”

The strike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, the general revealed.

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“We now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K or a direct threat to US forces,” US Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters during a briefing.

“This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake,” he added. Gen. McKenzie said the US was considering paying reparations.

The US general walked reporters through the timeline leading up to the decision to strike. “Clearly our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota Corolla,” he said.

Afghans inspect damage of Ahmadi family house after US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP)
Afghans inspect damage of Ahmadi family house after US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had ordered a “thorough review of the investigation.”

“We will scrutinize not only what we decided to do -- and not do -- on the 29th of August, but also how we investigated those outcomes.

“We owe that to the victims and their loved ones, to the American people and to ourselves,” Austin said in a statement.

Drone strike kills family in Afghanistan

For days after the August 29 strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite 10 civilians being killed, including seven children. News organizations later raised doubts about that version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.

The airstrike was the last of a US war that ended as it had begun in 2001 - with the Taliban in power in Kabul. The speed with which the Taliban overran the country took the US government by surprise and forced it to send several thousand troops to the Kabul airport for a hurried evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others. The evacuation, which began Aug. 14, unfolded under a near-constant threat of attack by the ISIS group’s Afghanistan affiliate.

Prior to the strike, US intelligence had indicated a likelihood that a white Toyota Corolla would be used in an attack against US forces, 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 ISIS 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, McKenzie said.

Afghan people are seen inside a house after US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP)
Afghan people are seen inside a house after US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP)

Accounts from the family of the victims, documents from colleagues seen by The Associated Press, and the scene at the family home - where Zemerai Ahmadi’s car was struck by a Hellfire missile just as he pulled into the driveway - all painted a picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the United States, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.

The family said that when the 37-year-old Zemerai, alone in his car, pulled up to the house, he honked his horn. His 11-year-old son ran out and Zemerai let the boy get in and drive the car into the driveway. The other kids ran out to watch, and the Hellfire missile incinerated the car, killing seven children and an adult son and nephew of Zemerai.

With the Associated Press

Read more:

Taliban shootout in palace sidelines leader who dealt with US: Sources

Investigation casts doubt on US drone strike in Afghanistan that killed family of 10

Afghan family says US drone strike killed 10, including seven children: Report