According to the official, Said found that better communication between those making the strike decision and other support staff could have raised more doubts about the bombing, but in the end may not have prevented it.
Said was asked to investigate the drone attack on August 29 on a white Toyota Corolla sedan that killed Zemerai Ahmadi and nine family members, including seven children. Ahmadi, 37, was a longtime employee of a U.S. humanitarian organization.
The intelligence about the car and its potential threat came a few days after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 13 US soldiers and 169 Afghans at an airport gate in Kabul. The United States worked to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans and other allies in the wake of the collapse of the country’s government.
Said concluded that US forces really believed that the car they were following was an imminent threat and that they had to attack it before it got closer to the airport.
The report, which has been approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, provided several recommendations that have been passed on to Chiefs of the US Central Command and US Special Operations Command. The official said the audit recommends that more be done to prevent what military officials call “confirmation bias” – the idea that troops making the decision to attack were too quick to conclude that what they saw was in line with the intelligence service, and confirmed their conclusion to bomb what turned out to be the wrong car.
The review recommends that the military have personnel present with a strike team whose job it is to actively question such conclusions. The report says that the use of a so-called “red team” in such self-defense attacks, which are carried out quickly, can help avoid mistakes.
Said also recommended that the military improve its procedures to ensure that children and other innocent civilians are not present before launching a time-sensitive attack.
For days after the attack, Pentagon officials claimed it had been carried out correctly, despite rising reports that more civilians and children had died and growing doubts that the car contained explosives. Said’s review concluded that officials made their initial assessments too quickly and did not make enough analyzes.
While Said’s report does not find individual errors or recommend discipline, officials said commanders can decide to take administrative action once they have reviewed his report.
The United States is working to pay financial compensation to the family and potentially get them out of Afghanistan, but nothing has been finalized.
Another defense attorney said Austin has requested that General Frank McKenzie, chief of the US Central Command, and General Richard Clarke, chief of the US Special Operations Command, return to him with recommendations for changes to resolve the gaps.
Said’s review reflects many of the findings McKenzie outlined several weeks after the investigation.
The Central Command’s review found that U.S. forces tracked the car for about eight hours and launched the attack in a “sincere belief” – based on a standard of “reasonable security” – that it posed an imminent threat to U.S. troops at Kabul airport. The car is believed to have had explosives in the trunk.
The air strike was the last in a US war that ended a few days later when the last US troops flew out of Kabul airport, leaving the Taliban in power.