US military admits it killed 10 civilians and targeted wrong vehicle in Kabul airstrike
Anna Coren, Julia Hollingsworth and Sandi Sidhu, CNN
(CNN) — A United States military investigation into a deadly Kabul drone strike on a vehicle in August has found it killed 10 civilians and the driver and that the vehicle targeted was likely not a threat associated with ISIS-K, announced Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top general of US Central Command, at the Pentagon on Friday.
McKenzie told reporters that the strike was a “mistake” and offered an apology.
“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 and I offer my sincere apology,” he said.
McKenzie added that he is “fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome.”
The Pentagon had maintained that at least one ISIS-K facilitator and three civilians were killed in what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley had previously called a “righteous strike” on the compound on August 29. The investigation released Friday found that all of those killed in the residential compound were civilians.
In the lead up to the strike, drone operators surveilled the courtyard for up to 4 to 5 minutes. In that time, a male driver left the vehicle. One child was parking the vehicle and other children were present in the car and the courtyard — as CNN had been told by the Ahmadi family.
The military based the strike on a reasonable certainty standard to launch the strike on the vehicle. Tragically, it was the wrong vehicle, a US military official familiar with the investigation told CNN earlier Friday, adding that reasonable certainty is not 100% certainty.
“We didn’t take the strike because we thought we were wrong — we took the strike because we thought we had a good target,” McKenzie said.
Previously, US Central Command pointed to “significant secondary explosions” as evidence of a “substantial amount of explosive material” in the vehicle. On Friday, the US military source said that after reviewing footage from infra-red sensors, they would no longer characterize this as an explosion — instead, it was more of a flare up.
The US official said that in the time leading up to the strike, the US had at least 60 different intelligence reports about threat streams toward US forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
On Friday, Milley released a statement on the strike calling it “a horrible tragedy.”
“In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, but after deeper post-strike analysis, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” Milley said in a statement.
“This is a horrible tragedy of war and its [sic] heart wrenching and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident,” he added.