US military admits it killed 10 civilians and attacked wrong vehicles in Kabul airstrike

McKenzie told reporters that the strike – which he said killed seven children – was a “mistake” and offered an apology.

“This strike was taken in the sincere belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and those evacuated at the airport, but it was a mistake and I give my sincere apology,” he said.

McKenzie added that he is “fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome.”

The Pentagon’s announcement is likely to provoke more criticism of the Biden administration’s chaotic evacuation of Kabul and the handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan more broadly. While McKenzie on Friday stressed that future strikes are likely to be held to a higher standard, confirmation of the civilian death also provides insight into the upcoming obstacles for military and intelligence officials tasked with fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise to the terrorist group to “pay” for its deadly suicide attack in Kabul.

The Pentagon had maintained that at least one ISIS-K facilitator and three civilians were killed in what Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had previously called a “just attack” in the area on August 29. The study, released Friday, showed that all of those killed in the residential area were civilians.

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In up to the strike, drone operators monitored the farm for up to 4 to 5 minutes. At that time, a male motorist left the vehicle. One child parked the vehicle and other children were present in the car and yard – as CNN had been told by the Ahmadi family.

The military based the attack on a reasonable standard of security to launch the attack on the vehicle. Tragically, it was the wrong vehicle, a U.S. military official familiar with the investigation told CNN earlier Friday, adding that reasonable security is not 100% security.

“We did not take the strike because we thought we were wrong – we took the strike because we thought we had a good goal,” McKenzie said. While acknowledging that the strike “was a terrible mistake”, he said he “would not qualify the whole operation” as a failure.

Asked by a journalist to explain how the “complete and complete failure” could have occurred, McKenzie said: “While I agree that this strike certainly did not live up to our standards, and I deeply regret it, I would not qualify the whole operation in these terms. “

In the past, the U.S. Central Command has pointed to “significant secondary explosions” as evidence of a “significant amount of explosive material” in the vehicle. On Friday, the U.S. military source said that after reviewing footage from infrared sensors, they would no longer characterize this as an explosion – instead, it was more of a flare-up.

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The US official said that in the run-up to the attack, the United States had at least 60 different intelligence reports on threats against US forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

A US official with direct knowledge of the standards for a strike of this kind told CNN earlier this month that 10 civilian deaths is an “astronomically high” number and that the military would have made estimates of security damage in advance, meaning the commanders were aware that there was a potential for civilian casualties.

“Had we collaborated with a local partner, we would never have fired a missile at the vehicle, but tried to get to the drivers before getting into the car,” a former intelligence official with knowledge of how these attacks were carried out, told earlier CNN. “It assumes we had information about the car unlike the people, and maybe after it was already on the road, leaving far fewer options.”

Reaction to the results

Biden was briefed on the details of the investigation Friday morning, an official said.

In a speech last month, the president praised the strike as an example of the United States’ ability to target ISIS-K. The White House has not yet commented on the results of the survey.

On Friday, Milley issued a statement on the strike, calling it “a terrible tragedy”.

“In a dynamic environment of high threat, the leaders on the ground had appropriate authority and reasonable assurance that the target was valid, but after a deeper analysis after the attack, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” Milley said in a statement. .

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“This is a terrible tragedy of war and its [sic] heartbreaking and we are committed to being completely transparent about this incident, “he added.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also apologized for the strike in a statement on Friday, condoling the family to Zamarai Ahmadi, the driver of the car targeted during the strike.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we thought we were facing and that Mr Ahmadi “was just as innocent. a victim, just as the others were tragically killed,” he said.

Austin said he is conducting a “thorough review” of the Central Command investigation and the information that prompted the U.S. military to conduct it.

Austin said the military, when it has reason to believe it has taken innocent lives, “investigates it, and if it’s true, we admit it.”

“But we must also work just as hard to prevent recurrence – regardless of the circumstances, the flow of intelligence or the operational pressure under which we work,” he added. “We will do that in this case.”

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Human rights group Amnesty International said Friday’s concession was an “important step towards accountability”, but added that Washington needs to take more steps, including paying compensation to family members and survivors of the strike.

“The United States must now commit to a full, transparent and impartial investigation into this incident. Anyone suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in a fair trial,” said Brian Castner, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International’s crisis response program.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement Friday that “after such a devastating failure – one that, according to the ministry’s estimates, killed 10 civilians, at least 7 of them children – it may not be the last step.”

“We need to know what went wrong in the hours and minutes leading up to the strike to prevent similar tragedies in the future,” the California Democrat said, adding that his committee “will continue to push for answers.”

This story has been updated with further development.

CNN’s Katie Bo Williams, Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman, Jennifer Hansler and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

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