A top general of U.S. Central Command announced Friday at the Pentagon that a military investigation into the deadly Kabul drone strike on a vehicle in August reveals that it killed 10 civilians, and the driver of the targeted vehicle was not in any way connected with ISIS-K.
General Frank McKenzie said that the strike that killed seven children 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, according to CNN.
McKenzie also said that he is fully responsible for the strike and for the tragic outcome.
After the admission of the strike that killed innocent Afghan civilians, the Biden administration is likely to receive further backlash and criticisms over its handling of the evacuation in Kabul and the withdrawal of U.S. forces and allies from Afghanistan.
McKenzie also said Friday that future strikes will be of a “higher standard” but the admission of killing civilians provides insight into the hurdles that the military and intelligence officials, tasked with fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise to make the terror group “pay” for its deadly suicide attack in Kabul, may encounter in future.
The Pentagon also retained the information that there has been at least one ISIS-K facilitator and three civilians killed in what was called, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, a “righteous strike” on the compound on Aug. 29. The investigation revealed on Friday that all those who were killed in the residential compound were civilians.
Before the strike, drone operators surveyed the area for around 5 minutes. During that time, a male driver left the vehicle and a child was parking the vehicle with other children present in the car and the courtyard, according to the family of Zamarai Ahmadi, the driver of the car hit in the strike.
The deadly drone strike was based on a reasonable certainty standard to launch the hit on the vehicle but unfortunately, it was the wrong one, a U.S. military official who is familiar with the investigation told CNN on Friday.
“We didn’t take the strike because we thought we were wrong — we took the strike because we thought we had a good target,” said McKenzie. Although he recognized that the strike was a terrible mistake, he also said that he would “not qualify the entire operation” as a failure.
When he was asked by a reporter to discuss how the “complete and utter failure” happened, McKenzie said that “While I agree that this strike certainly did not come up to our standards and I profoundly regret it, I would not qualify the entire operation in those terms.”
The U.S. Central Command previously indicated that “significant secondary explosions” were evidence of a “substantial amount of explosive material” in the vehicle.
The U.S. military source said that after looking into the footage from infra-red sensors, the incident was no longer considered an explosion but rather a flare-up.
Officials also said that before the strike, the country had 60 different intelligence reports regarding the threat to U.S. forces at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Earlier this month, a U.S. official, who has immediate knowledge about the standards for the strike that happened told CNN news agency that 10 civilian deaths are “astronomically high”, and the military should have performed collateral damage estimates before doing the strike. This means that commanders already knew that there would be a possibility for civilian deaths.
“Had we cooperation (sic) with any local partner, we would have never fired a missile at the vehicle but tried to get to the drivers before they got in the car,” an ex-intelligence official who is knowledgeable about how strikes of this nature are organized told CNN.
“That assumes we had intel on the car as opposed to the people, and maybe after it was already in route, which leaves far fewer options.”
The official said that Biden had been informed about the findings of the investigation Friday morning. He had last month hailed the strike as an example of the U.S. ability to target ISIS-K. The White House has not yet commented on the investigation’s findings.