Video Showed Child in Area Minutes Before Kabul Drone Strike
An investigation of the Aug. 29 airstrike, which mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, did not recommend any disciplinary action.,
Investigator Says Child Was Visible in Surveillance Before U.S. Strike
A U.S. military investigation into a strike that mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in Kabul, Afghanistan, said video showed at least one child minutes before the launch. The inquiry found no law violations and did not recommend disciplinary action.
“The report confirmed that the strike resulted in the death of 10 Afghan civilians, including three men and seven children. Individuals involved in the strike interviewed during this investigation truly believed at the time that they were targeting an imminent threat to U.S. forces on HKIA. The intended target of the strike, the vehicle, the white Corolla, its contents and occupant, were genuinely assessed at the time to be a threat to U.S. forces. That assessment was primarily driven by interpretation of intelligence and correlating that to observed movement throughout an eight-hour window in which the vehicle was tracked throughout the day before it was ultimately struck. Regrettably, the interpretation of the correlation of the intelligence to what was being perceived at the time, in real time, was inaccurate. In fact, the vehicle, its occupant and contents did not pose any risk to U.S. forces. In addition, the assessment prior to strike at the compound at which the vehicle was struck of the individuals in the area itself was inaccurate. The investigation found no violation of law, including the law of war — it did find execution errors confirmed by, or combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns that regrettably led to civilian casualties. The first time we had confirmation of kids was at the 2 minute time frame.” Reporter: “Two minutes before the impact?” “Before the trigger pull. Two independent reviews that I conducted for this investigation, the physical evidence of a child was apparent about the 2 minute point. It is 100 percent not obvious. You have to be like, no kidding, looking for it. But when you’re looking for it, certainly after the fact, if you ask me, was there evidence of a presence? Yes, there was.”
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 U.S. 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.”
The military makes an effort to avoid civilian casualties. The known presence of a child in a strike zone would most likely have prompted, at a minimum, further consideration of whether a more thorough assessment of the target was warranted.
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.
The investigation made several recommendations for fixing the process through which strikes are ordered, including putting in new measures to cut down the risk of confirmation bias and reviewing the pre-strike procedures used to assess the presence of civilians.
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 and 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 the Islamic State 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, who were killed in the Aug. 29 drone strike.
The Pentagon has also said it was working with the State Department to help surviving members of the family relocate to the United States.
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.
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.
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.
“This investigation is deeply disappointing and inadequate because we’re left with many of the same questions we started with,” Dr. Steven Kwon, the president of Nutrition and Education International, said in an emailed statement. “I do not understand how the most powerful military in the world could follow Zemari, an aid worker, in a commonly used car for eight hours, and not figure out who he was, and why he was at a U.S. aid organization’s headquarters.”
Critics of the strike pointed to the incongruity of acknowledging the mistake but not finding anyone responsible for any wrongdoing, a point that General Said touched on in his remarks. He said that he had sent the full report to senior military officials.
“The fact that I’ve sent it to the chain of command, that doesn’t mean the chain of command won’t do anything,” he said. “They can read this and say ‘This is sub par performance.'”
Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that Nutrition and Educational International “and the surviving family members have repeatedly asked for meaningful transparency and accountability for the wrongful killing of their loved ones, but they did not receive it today.
“The Inspector General’s main findings of error, confirmation bias, and communication breakdowns are all too common with U.S. lethal strikes, and his recommendations do not remedy the tremendous harm here, or the likelihood that it will happen again.”
The Pentagon’s initial 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.