The US military on Friday admitted that it killed 10 civilians — including seven children and aid worker Zemari Ahmadi in a drone strike near Kabul’s airport last month — and not Islamic State bomb plotters, as it originally claimed.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command, said the civilians “were tragically killed” on Aug. 29, one day before the final chaotic Biden administration evacuation flights from Kabul.
“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie said at a press conference.
“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.”
As his military leaders were revealing the deadly screwup Friday afternoon, President Biden had already headed to his beach house in Rehoboth, Del, for the weekend. He said nothing to reporters on his way out of the White House or upon arrival in Delaware.
The Pentagon initially said the strike was a successful mission to prevent another bombing of the Kabul airport after 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans died in a suspected ISIS suicide attack on Aug. 26.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had staunchly defended the drone strike three days after it occurred, saying, “the procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike.”
Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including the seven children, were killed in the airstrike, according to his brother Romal Ahmadi.
Ahmadi worked for 14 years as a technical engineer in Afghanistan for the Pasadena, Calif.-based charity group Nutrition and Education International, which feeds hungry Afghans.
Ahmadi had a pending application to move to the US as a refugee.
McKenzie said that “I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who are killed. The strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our force and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “offers his deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed, including Mr Ahmadi, and to the staff of Nutrition and Education International, Mr. Ahmadi’s employer.”
The Defense Department said a decision has not been made on possibile financial compensation to Ahmadi’s family. And there’s no decision yet on whether anyone should be punished, Kirby said.
Security footage from Ahmadi’s workplace, published by the New York Times, showed the Kabul resident, whose neighborhood had unreliable water service, filling containers with water at his office at 2:35 p.m. shortly before he returned home.
A US Reaper drone’s Hellfire missile struck Ahmadi’s vehicle at his home at 4:53 p.m., McKenzie said. The military now believes a “secondary explosion” was caused by a propane tank — rather than ignition of bomb material, as originally claimed.
Journalists who visited the site of the attack had disputed the Pentagon’s claim that there was a secondary explosion. Three weapons experts told the Times there was no evidence of a secondary explosion caused by bomb material because there were no blown-out walls or destroyed vegetation near the car.
The Pentagon described the accidental killing of Ahmadi as a result of the frenzied evacuation effort after the Taliban swept into Kabul before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country.
“One of the most recurring aspects of the intelligence was that ISIS-K would utilize a flight Toyota Corolla as a key element in the next attack.” McKenzie said. “Clearly, our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota.”
The military had been given broad leeway to attack suspected terrorists without presidential approval after the airport bombing — despite consistent reports of civilian casualties linked to US airstrikes during the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.
In a different drone strike, the US military said it killed two suspected members of the Islamic State group in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 27 — though the Biden administration has refused to reveal their names. Pentagon officials said Friday that they stand by the validity of that attack.
Author: Steven Nelson
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