WASHINGTON — Surveillance videos showed the presence of at least one child in the area some two minutes before the military launched a drone strike on a site in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.
But the general who conducted the investigation into the U.S. airstrike, which the military has acknowledged mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, said the footage showing the presence of a child would have been easy to miss in real time.
The inquiry by the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, found no violations of law and does not recommend any disciplinary action. The general blamed a series of assumptions, made over the course of eight hours as American officials tracked a white Toyota Corolla through Kabul, for causing what he called “confirmation bias,” leading to the Aug. 29 strike.
“That assessment was primarily driven by interpretation,” the general said on Wednesday during an unclassified briefing on the report to news media at the Pentagon. “Regrettably, the interpretational assessment was inaccurate.”
While General Said acknowledged that the military had video footage showing a child at the site two minutes before the launch, he said that he was unsure whether anyone who was not specifically looking for evidence of a child would have picked up on it.
“Two independent reviews that I conducted, the physical evidence of a child was apparent at the 2-minute point,” he said. “But it is 100 percent not obvious; you have to be looking for it.”
Planners involved in the strike “had a genuine belief that there was an imminent threat to U.S. forces,” the general said. He acknowledged that was “a mistake” but added that “it’s not negligence.”
General Said insisted that the strike has to be considered in the context of the moment, with American officials at a heightened state of alert after a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport three days earlier killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the review of the military’s initial inquiry into the drone strike to determine, among other issues, who should be held accountable and “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”
Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, days and weeks after the drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles. And a secondary explosion in the courtyard in the densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said.
The driver of the white sedan that was struck by the American drone, Zemari Ahmadi, was employed by Nutrition & Education International, a California-based aid organization.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of Central Command, said in a news conference in September that the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that ISIS was about to launch another attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Since then, the Pentagon offered unspecified condolence payments to the family of the 10 civilians, including seven children, were who killed in the Aug. 29 drone strike.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
How did the Taliban gain control? See how the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in a few months, and read about how their strategy enabled them to do so.
What happens to the women of Afghanistan? The last time the Taliban were in power, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school. Afghan women have made many gains since the Taliban were toppled, but now they fear that ground may be lost. Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different, but there are signs that, at least in some areas, they have begun to reimpose the old order.
What does their victory mean for terrorist groups? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago in response to terrorism, and many worry that Al Qaeda and other radical groups will again find safe haven there. On Aug. 26, deadly explosions outside Afghanistan’s main airport claimed by the Islamic State demonstrated that terrorists remain a threat.
How will this affect future U.S. policy in the region? Washington and the Taliban may spend years pulled between cooperation and conflict. Some of the key issues at hand include: how to cooperate against a mutual enemy, the Islamic State branch in the region, known as ISIS-K, and whether the U.S. should release $9.4 billion in Afghan government currency reserves that are frozen in the country.
The Pentagon has also said it was working with the State Department to help surviving members of the family relocate to the United States.
How a U.S. Drone Strike Killed the Wrong Person
A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in an Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.
A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in an Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.CreditCredit…By The New York Times. Video frame: Nutrition & Education International.
Congress has authorized the Pentagon to pay up to $3 million a year for payments to compensate for property damage, personal injury or deaths related to the actions of U.S. armed forces, as well as for “hero payments” to the family members of local allied forces, such as Afghan or Iraqi troops fighting Al Qaeda or ISIS.
Condolence payments for deaths caused by the American military have varied widely in recent years. In fiscal 2019, for instance, the Pentagon offered 71 such payments — ranging from $131 to $35,000 — in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The acknowledgment of the mistaken strike came a week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for the airport.